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While his estranged wife is planning divorce proceedings, private investigator Lew Harper takes on a new case on the recommendation of a long-time friend, attorney Albert Graves. Harper is asked to investigate the disappearance of the millionaire husband of Elaine Sampson, a crippled and bitter woman. At the Sampson estate, Harper also meets Elaine's spoiled stepdaughter, Miranda, and the Sampson's handsome private pilot, Alan Taggert. While searching the missing man's Los Angeles hotel suite, Harper finds a photograph of one-time starlet, Fay Estabrook. He tracks down the now plump and alcoholic Fay, gets her drunk, and takes her home. He searches her apartment and intercepts a phone call which leads him to a bar where he meets Betty Fraley, a drug-addicted singer. After being beaten up for asking too many questions, Harper visits a mountaintop site which Sampson gave to Claude, a religious fanatic. Later, Mrs. Sampson receives a ransom note, and Harper drops off the money, but Betty Fraley doublecrosses the kidnapers and intercepts the money. Harper then accuses Taggert of planning the kidnaping with Betty. Taggert draws a gun on Harper, but he is shot by Graves, who makes a timely appearance. Harper goes to Betty's apartment and finds her being tortured for the ransom money by Fay's husband, Troy, who is in league with Claude in smuggling Mexicans across the border. After killing Troy, Harper forces Betty to take him to the abandoned oil tanker where Sampson is being held prisoner. There he and Graves find the body of the murdered millionaire. Betty attempts to escape, but she is killed when her car plummets from a cliff. As they return to the Sampson estate, Grave admits that he killed Sampson because of his hatred for the man and his love for young Miranda. He draws a gun on Harper but realizes that he cannot kill his friend.