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After he discovers that Laury Palmer, the owner of a Reno boardinghouse, was romancing him only to make her boyfriend Danny jealous, Sam Wilde, a seductive but violent drifter, kills both her and Danny. Cool, sophisticated Helen Brent finds the bodies in the boardinghouse, where she has been living during her divorce proceedings, but instead of notifying the police, she calmly boards the next train to San Francisco. Also on board the train is Sam, who begins a rough flirtation with Helen and wisely observes that he is "going in the same direction" as she. Although Helen discourages the ambitious Sam from seeing her in San Francisco, he tracks her to her half sister Georgia Staples' mansion and there is introduced to Fred Grover, Helen's wealthy fiancé. After Helen tells Georgia about her gruesome discovery in Reno, she, Georgia, Fred and Sam dine together. As soon as he is alone with Helen, Sam accuses her of wanting to marry Fred for his money, and she freely admits that she is tired of playing Georgia's "poor relation." When Sam smugly insinuates that he could make Helen break the engagement if he wanted, she balks, stating firmly that no one can come between her and the security of Fred's money. In response, Sam flirts aggressively with the impressionable Georgia and, later that night, telephones his confidant, Marty Waterman, in Reno to announce that he will soon be marrying Georgia. As predicted, Sam becomes engaged to Georgia. He is unaware, however, that a private investigator, Albert Arnett, has been hired by Mrs. Kraft, the alcoholic proprietress of Laury's boardinghouse, to discover Laury's killer, and has tracked Marty to Helen and Georgia's home. After the wedding ceremony, a confused, jealous Helen argues with Sam about her sister, whom she both loves and resents, and ends up in his arms. She then throws out Arnett, who is posing as a hungry vagrant in order to snoop around the house, and dismisses his insinuations about Sam's past. A few weeks later, Sam and Georgia return home early from their honeymoon, having fought over Sam's desire to run the newspaper that Georgia inherited from her father. That night, Sam finds Helen alone in the kitchen and, after describing her as his "soul mate," kisses her passionately. Sam then compliments her on the calm way she acted in Reno, and as he begins to describe the murder scene in detail, Helen realizes that Sam is, in fact, the killer. Helen immediately telephones Arnett to arrange a meeting, unaware that Sam is listening in on the extension. To protect Sam, Helen tries to buy Arnett's silence for $5,000, but he demands $15,000. When Helen returns home, she is confronted by a jealous Sam, but finally convinces him that Arnett is only interested in her money. Sam and Marty plot to kill Mrs. Kraft, who has come to San Francisco, but when Marty goes to Helen's bedroom to warn her about Sam's violent nature, Sam assumes he is flirting with her and kills him as he is about to kill Mrs. Kraft. The next morning, Helen provides Sam with an alibi when the police question her about Marty, then tells Mrs. Kraft that unless she drops her investigation, she will be terrorized and killed. Although she calls Helen the coldest woman she has ever met, Mrs. Kraft agrees to end her pursuit. Later, Helen admits to Sam that she is "doing it all for him," but is devastated when Fred finally breaks their engagement. A suddenly remorseful Helen then tells Georgia the truth about Sam and forces her to eavesdrop while she makes plans with Sam to run away. Just then, the police, who have been tipped off by Arnett, arrive at the house, and assuming that Helen has double-crossed him, Sam tries to shoot her. Helen flees upstairs and locks herself in a bedroom, but Sam shoots at her through the door as the police storm the house. After Sam is shot and killed by the police, Helen dies of her wounds.