Walter Merrick was one of approximately twenty white men lynched in Kentucky between 1880 and 1950. Merrick’s race and the unusual circumstances of the lynching accounts for the abundance of official evidence detailing Merrick’s life and homicide. Merrick was born in March 1891 in Caldwell County, Kentucky. His parents, James and Mary, raised Walter and his ten siblings in the town of Harmony, Kentucky. James Merrick worked as a farmer in Caldwell County; Mary Merrick took care of the children and managed the home. Walter and his siblings attended school in the county. In 1916, Walter Merrick married Mattie (maiden name unknown). The two bought a farm in Harmony, KY three years later. Walter and Mattie Merrick had five children: Carlton, Imogene, Georgia, Photahonus, and Ervin. The farm operated successfully in Caldwell County.
In February 1932, an unknown person threw a stick of dynamite into a general store in Caldwell County, seriously injuring the owner, Millard P’Poole (whose name had been shortened from the original Pettipoole). Merrick became a prime suspect, though newspaper accounts of the time did not explain the grounds for the accusations. A few newspapers claimed that Merrick was angry because his son had been whipped at school earlier in the month and P’Poole was close with the teacher who whipped the younger Merrick. P’Poole also served on the county’s school board. In late May 1932, four months after the bombing, Merrick was arrested and jailed on charges of arson.
The Indianapolis Times reported that on May 31, 1932, twenty masked assailants broke into the jail, tied up the jailer, and kidnapped Merrick. The mob took him three miles from the prison and hung him from a tree in Princeton, a small town in Caldwell County. Merrick was 44 years old.
The lynching of Walter Merrick also reveals that on occasion, a white newspaper used biased language in its descriptions of white victims as well as black victims of lynchings. The Waterbury Democrat called Merrick a “dynamiter … [who] had blown up a store and injured the proprietor,” though the bombing of the general store took place four months earlier and Merrick’s trial had not begun. However, Merrick’s death was ruled homicide by the county coroner, as noted on the death certificate. He is buried next to his wife in the Millwood Cemetery in Caldwell, KY.