Wayne Hinshaw column: Remembering Albert Stout

Published 12:20 am Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Reading in the Salisbury Post recently about the death of Albert Stout Jr.stirred up memories buried deep in my mind. Albert was an undercover SBI agent who was nearly blown up by car bomb early one morning in 1974.

His death was a shock to me.

Coming to the Post as a young photographer in 1971, I had never met Albert. Our paths had not crossed by Sept. 10, 1974, when the bomb ripped his Ford Torino to shreds with Albert inside.

On that morning, I was driving on East Innes Street to the Post to start my day when I heard a call on my police scanner. A car had been bombed in the parking lot of Lafayette Apartments. My heart pounding with adrenalin, I turned from Innes to Green Street and headed toward the apartments.

I was immediately met at the scene by Salisbury Police Officer Tom Waller, running toward the bombed car. As he ran past me, he shouted, “Stay back.”

From a short distance, I began taking photos of the emergency workers and policemen working around the blown-apart car. The inside looked like shredded metal. The doors were blown open and bent in weird angles. Part of the roof was missing and the hood  bowed heavily in the middle.

I remember thinking that no man could survive the carnage dumped on that car.

I didn’t know who was in the car but later learned it was Albert Stout Jr.

Years passed and I eventually ran into Albert at another crime scene being investigated the SBI. He had recovered from the explosion after losing his right leg, right eye and the hearing in his right ear. His right hand was damaged.

I was amazed to meet the man.

He was telling jokes, laughing and entertaining the others on the scene. He had regained much of the life that the bombers tried to blow away. I liked him at once.

Other officers were kidding Albert about his fear of snakes. Here was an honored law officer that a bomb couldn’t destroy, a man as tough as they come, who was terrified by snakes.

The officers were insisting that Albert go into the woods and clear the way of snakes for them to get to a crime scene. They said if Albert went into the woods all the snakes would follow him and clear the path.

Albert laughed and agreed that the snakes would come after him, but he assured the officers that he was not about to enter the woods to test the plan.

As years passed, I would occasionally run into Albert at work or in restaurants or gospel singings. I learned that he was a wonderful singer in a church gospel group. As a leader in his community and church, he was a fun person to be around.

At these random meetings, Albert and I would stop and talk for a few minutes — tell a few stories and share a laugh. Conversation was always about his singing group and always, always included a rehash of the fear-of-snakes stories.

The last time I spoke with Albert was four or five weeks ago at Wink’s Restaurant. I saw him walk in as I was about to leave. Across the restaurant he threw up his hand in a wave as our eyes met. Both of us smiled. He sat at the front counter, as always, and I went to him.

It was the usual chatter from me, “How are you doing?” And his reply was, “Simply lovely.”

He said that he was still singing and keeping busy.

I asked if he had encountered any snakes.

His laugh rolled out as he told me, “As long as the snakes stay in the woods, I’m still staying out of the woods.”

After a pat on the back we parted, both in good humor from our short visit.

I was drawn to Albert’s funeral Saturday to pay my respects to him one last time.

As I viewed his stoic face there in the casket, I wondered if he was now somewhere where the snakes would never bother him again.

I chuckled in my soul, knowing that he was in such a place, a snake-free heaven.