On the witness stand a few weeks ago, Mobile homicide detective Kenneth Gillespie testified to tracking an accused murderer until he eventually led authorities to the location of his mother’s body in rural Baldwin County.
What didn’t make it into the record, though, was how much his wife likely heard about the investigation as authorities spent weeks monitoring their prime suspect.
“A lot of people whose spouses aren’t in law enforcement, they can’t really go home and talk about how somebody was brutally murdered because, honestly, it would traumatize their wife,” Gillespie said. “Whereas my wife is in the same line of work, and she’s been around that stuff.”
That’s because Kenneth’s wife is Kristen Gillespie, a 17-year law enforcement veteran and currently a detective with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Department.
Not only are the Gillespies both detectives, their respective employers think they’re both worthy of accolades. Earlier this month, Kenneth was named MPD’s Officer of the Year while Kristen took home the title MCSO Deputy of the Year after being named Deputy of the Month four times in 2017.
Kristen started working with MPD in 2000 before transferring to MCSO in 2004, where she’s worked as a detective on everything from burglaries, domestic situations, thefts, assaults and financial crimes. Kristen told Lagniappe she’s been around law enforcement since childhood.
“I have an uncle that’s a retired police chief from Illinois, and a lot of other family that were in law enforcement. It’s just always intrigued me,” she said. “I was also on the safety patrol when I was in elementary school, which was where students would go out during school traffic and make sure cars stopped and kids were dropped off and picked back up safely.”
Kenneth found a slightly different path into law enforcement, starting as an assistant EMT and riding ambulances with Mobile County EMS. However, because of the overlap with the areas served by MCSO, that’s also how he eventually met his wife. The pair got married in 2006, not long before Kenneth enrolled as a cadet in MPD’s police academy. The Gillespies have been married 11 years, during which Kenneth has risen through the ranks to join detectives in MPD’s homicide unit.“In the cases I handle, the victims can’t really speak out to tell their side of the story, and that’s one of the things that drive me — trying to get justice for their families,” he said. “Nothing we can do is going to bring back a loved one, but trying to figure out who did it and hold them accountable for their actions can definitely help them emotionally.”
Like other couples, the Gillespies talk about work when they get home in the evenings, and often “bounce ideas off each other” about suspects or difficult cases. Because their jurisdictions can overlap, Kenneth said, there’s no reason they can’t share information about an investigation.
“There’s been occasions where people in my department will come to me and say, ‘Get up with your wife and ask her about this’ or they’ll ask her, ‘Can you get with your husband and tell him I got this information on a case?’” Kenneth said. “That’s one thing that makes our relationship a little more valuable to both departments.”
However, sharing the same profession — especially one as demanding as law enforcement — can make it challenging to shut out work when it’s time to relax. Specifically, Kristen mentioned a cruise the couple took, accusing Kenneth of working off the clock.
“You were texting,” she told him. “He has two phones, and he never put them down.”
As detectives, the Gillespies deal with dangerous situations regularly. However, Kenneth said having experience actually helps alleviate some of the worry other law enforcement spouses have. They also make sure to keep in contact with one another, even if they’re out working in the middle of the night.
“We’re definitely concerned about each other when we’re out working in dangerous areas, but with us both having a little more knowledge about things, we know they’re working together with other people and not out there by ourselves,” Kenneth said. “She knows the guys I work with, and I know the people she works with. We keep open lines of communication.”
As for their awards this year, the Gillespies said they’re very proud of each other. While Kenneth joked that Kristen wasn’t named MCSO’s Deputy of Month until after they got married, he said his wife seriously deserves to be recognized for “how hard she works” and “how much she puts into her cases.”
“Every day, I see how she takes them personally,” he added. “Just this weekend, she was working a domestic and went above and beyond because she cares about the victim in that case, and she cares about what happens to her.”
As for Kenneth’s Officer of the Year designation, Kristen said much of the same — a deserved award was given to “a very good investigator” who “really cares about his cases.”
“I wish I could be more like you,” she told Kenneth. “You are very intelligent and very caring. Now, you need to bring that home and be a little more caring to your wife.”