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Chicago newspaper reporter Ed Adams happens to be in a seedy boardinghouse when the cleaning woman finds the body of tenant Rosita Jean d'Ur. Ed is drawn to Rosita's dark beauty and pockets her personal diary, in which she had recorded fifty-four names. Although the police declare that Rosita died from a tubercular hemorrhage, Ed's curiosity is piqued after he calls several of the people listed in her diary and none admits to knowing her. After being put off by tough-talking hoodlum Solly Wellman, G. G. Temple, the vice-president of a major trust company, and Belle Dorset, who is so frightened by his call that she immediately moves, Ed follows a lead to a party. There he meets Leona Purdy, a seductive blonde who once knew Rosita, but who fails to reveal anything about the deceased woman. While Ed dates Leona he continues his investigation of Rosita. Although his co-workers think Rosita was a "loose" woman, Ed believes that she was mistreated because she was compassionate, and grows increasingly suspicious of the circumstances surrounding her lonely death, especially after both Wellman and Temple threaten him. Rosita's brother, Tommy Ditman, finally comes forward and tells Ed about his once innocent sister: After the seventeen-year-old Rosita runs away from their Amarillo, Texas home, and goes to San Francisco, Tommy tracks her down and discovers that she has fallen in love with artist Paul Jean d'Ur. The couple marries and moves to New York. Tommy, who saw his beloved sister infrequently, informs Ed that Paul died in a car accident after their marriage went sour, and Rosita became lonely and bitter and had difficulty keeping a job. Gangster Blacky Franchot next contacts Ed and arranges to meet with him, but Blacky is shot before Ed arrives, and utters the words "I loved her" before he dies. Ed reports his findings to city editor Gribbe, who writes a sensationalized column about Rosita. Ed later meets with Leona, who reveals that she and Rosita once shared an apartment in the same building as Blacky, and recounts how her roommate became involved with him: Blacky ardently pursues a romance with Rosita, and although she is frightened of his connections to gangster Wellman, she eventually falls in love with Blacky. Rosita resists the persistent advances of Temple, whom she meets at a party, but returns home one night to find Blacky severely beaten, and they move to the countryside. However, when Blacky left Rosita, Leona explains to Ed, she returned to Chicago and started dating Temple, who later denies Ed's accusation that he ordered Blacky's beatings and had him run off. Ed slowly pieces together the bits of Rosita's life, despite interference from police detective Anstruder, who insists on accompanying Ed as he meets with invalid Hotspur Shaner, for whom Rosita worked as a housekeeper under an assumed name. When John Spingler, the man who introduced them, is reported murdered, Ed uses the distraction to escape from the police, and later learns from Rosita's former maid, Hazel, that Rosita left Temple one year earlier after a bitter argument in which Temple hit Rosita. As Ed leaves Hazel's building, he is knocked unconscious by two of Wellman's thugs. Ed awakens later in a junkyard and takes Leona to a boxing match featuring fighter Bat Bennett. Bat and his manager, Jerry Cavanaugh, were the last names to be listed in Rosita's book, under Hotspur's address. Before the fight, Ed finds Jerry and Bat arguing over the newspaper report of Rosita's death. After Bat leaves, Jerry reveals to Ed that Bat fell in love with Rosita while she was working for Hotspur: When Bat becomes distracted by Rosita, Jerry threatens to reveal her identity and hiding place to Wellman if she does not end the relationship. Rosita reluctantly consents and disappears after she quits working for Hotspur. Having heard that Wellman just killed Temple, whom Ed believes financed Wellman's rackets, Ed finds Belle, who admits that Wellman originally hired Spingler to murder Rosita, and never knew of Spingler's duplicity until he read the recent newspaper account of Rosita's death. When Wellman opens fire on Ed, the police come to his defense, but Wellman escapes. Ed, who was wounded, later sneaks out of a hospital with his co-worker Pig's help and questions Belle, who has been arrested. Belle reveals the missing link in Rosita's history: On the night of their argument, Temple admitted to Rosita, whom he was supporting, that he hired Wellman to get rid of Blacky. Temple struck Rosita during their argument and panicked when she appeared to be dead, and called for Wellman to help him. After Ed and Pig leave the jail, Wellman corners them in a parking garage, and Ed kills him in self-defense. At Rosita's small funeral, Ed gives Tommy his story, and then burns Rosita's diary in the funeral parlor's "eternal" flame.