The Doris Best Murder

The Doris Best Murder

In the early morning hours of December 5, 1920, on the Bills Farm on North River Road, William Best woke up his mother-in-law to report that his 21-year-old wife Doris had just killed herself. His story would not be believed by Mrs. Bills – or anyone else for that matter.

Doris Best lay in her bed with half her head blown off by a single barrel shotgun which was tied to her left foot by a string. When Dr. WHW Hinds and Milford Police Chief John Monteith arrived at the scene, they immediately concluded that Doris had been murdered. Indeed, her husband wasn’t fooling anyone – the string looped around Doris’s toe was too short and it was attached to the trigger guard of the gun, not the trigger. William Best was immediately arrested and hauled into the Milford Police Station.

Murders were extremely rare in these parts and the Milford Police spared no effort. A photographer was brought in to document every part of both the bedroom and the body. Measurements were made, evidence collected, and medical examiners hailed from Nashua and Boston. Meanwhile, throughout Sunday, Best maintained his story, insisting on the suicide. But according to the Milford Cabinet, when Best was questioned again at 5:30 that evening, Chief Monteith posed the question, “Are you sure she killed herself?” to which Best replied that he may have dreamed that part.  Then acknowledging that “they would find out sooner than later,” he divulged the entire story. While that version of what went down at the station sounds perhaps a bit too pat, however the confession came about, Best was soon on his way to Manchester to await a January trial.

For a small village like Milford, such a grisly murder was big news. City papers rushed reporters to the scene and all the regional metropolitan dailies covered the story. Motive was much-debated. Financial strife could have been a factor – Best worked in Hartshorn Mill and Doris in a hosiery factory. They were living with her parents along with their three-year-old boy, Billy. But jealousy seems to be what made Best snap.  He later described an awful row, in which after accusing her of “indiscretions,” he took out a shotgun from the cupboard. When Doris said he was only bluffing, he went ahead and fired.   

In January, Best pled guilty and was sentenced to life at hard labor at the state prison in Concord. It was all over in just a few minutes, disappointing the large crowd that had gathered for some judicial fireworks. Because only a jury trial could result in the death penalty in New Hampshire, Best avoided the hangman’s noose.

After serving 14 years of his life sentence and proving to be a model prisoner working in the prison bake shop, Best was pardoned on Christmas 1934 by Governor John Gilbert Winant.

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