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At a secluded clearing in the woods called "Lovers' Loop," eighteen-year-old Liz Taggart visits with Owen Clark, to whom she is secretly engaged, and gently refuses to explain why she has not introduced him to her parents. Hiding in the woods, a mentally disturbed man, Harold Loftus, who is watching the many couples, stumbles in the dark. When Owen gets out of his car to investigate the sound, Harold knocks him in the head with his metal lunchbox and kidnaps Liz. Her screams are unheeded by the other lovers, who assume she is playing hard to get. To quiet her, Harold slaps her unconscious and drives her away in Owen's convertible, leaving Owen unconscious on the ground. A couple driving a motorcycle discover Owen and pour liquor on his face to revive him, but when he does not move, leave him, fearing that they will be blamed for his death. Later, Owen regains consciousness, although not his memory, causing patrolmen who are routinely driving through the area to assume he is drunk. Harold drives the convertible to his parked jalopy, moves Liz into that car and drives away, leaving the convertible in its place. He takes her to an abandoned brickyard, where he has set up a hideout in an old shack. At the police station where Owen is being held, the police doctor determines that he is suffering shock and concussion from an assault, and convinces Capt. Ed Bates, who is in charge of the night shift, to question him. When Owen regains his memory and reports that a "peeping tom" abducted his girl friend Liz, Bates realizes that Liz is the daughter of the day shift captain, Dan Taggart. Meanwhile, at the Taggart home, the stern and overprotective Dan is angry that Liz is out late with someone they do not know and blames his wife Helen for being permissive. After Dan is informed of Liz's abduction, he goes to the station and is introduced to Owen. Bates has to intervene to prevent Dan from harming Owen, whom he blames for Liz's predicament. After an all-points bulletin is dispatched and roadblocks set up around the city, the convertible is found next to tire tracks of an old automobile with one unmatched tire. At the hideout, Liz discovers that Harold killed a little dog because it would not stop "crying." The extremely disturbed man alternately tries to "woo" her and threaten her. When he offers her dresses he found in an attic box and tells her about his overbearing mother, she calls him crazy, and he angrily draws a gun, causing her to faint. Meanwhile, Harold's mother Mabel is troubled that he has not returned home with the apricot pie he always brings her and calls the police, telling them how "Baby is such a good boy." As the conversation unfolds, the amused desk sergeant realizes that "Baby" is a thirty-two-year-old man, and afterward reports the call to Bates. Sam Patrick, a profiler whom the police have called in to help, suggests that they follow up the call, as a young man with a sickly, domineering mother might decide to break loose in a disturbing way. Bates, Dan and Owen proceed to the Loftus home, and note that the tire tracks in the dirt driveway probably match those found near the convertible. While Owen waits outside, Bates and Dan interview Mabel, who seems equally troubled that she has nothing sweet to eat as by the thought of Harold out with a girl. Dan almost loses his temper, but he and Bates manage to get the registration number and make of the jalopy and a photograph of Harold. Outside, Owen confirms that the man in the photo is the one who hit him. Disturbed by the idea that Harold's insane mother is "to blame for this," Dan goes home to wait for the next development in the case. At the hideout, when Liz awakens, Harold again tries to be "friends" with her, wanting to kiss her the way he sees other men kiss, but she keeps him talking to stall him. Seeing that her leg has been cut, he leaves to get water. She then takes the gun and, when he returns, threatens to shoot if he does not let her pass. However, the gun is not loaded, so her attempt to escape causes him to become even more deranged. She tries distracting him by talking about the dresses, but he calls her "my girl" and kisses her. Soon after, the police arrive at the brickyard, and determining that Harold is nearby, alert Bates by radio. When Harold sees the lights of the police car, he forces Liz, who loses the heel of her shoe, to escape with him through a back tunnel into the kiln. At the Taggarts, Helen and Dan's sister Madge, who lost her boyfriend when Dan browbeat and ordered him away, force Dan to realize that his sternness scares away Liz's friends and that she probably kept her love life secret to protect it from him. Dan argues that he wants to shield Liz and the family from the bad things he has seen, but Madge counters that his overprotection has instead endangered Liz. Bates and Owen pick up Dan on their way to the brickyard and soon find Harold's hideout. Pursued by the police, Harold shoots one policeman and nearly hits Owen. Although Harold forces Liz up ladders and over catwalks, his pursuers corner him. Owen, who has climbed above Harold, sees that he is about to ambush Dan and jumps down on him. Dan then begins to beat Harold, who cries for his mother. At Liz's request, Dan stops hitting Harold and hands him over to Bates for arrest. Preparing to take Liz home, Dan then invites Owen to join them.