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When schoolteacher Dorothy Stafford is found murdered on a city sidewalk, police detective Dick Tracy and his right-hand man, Pat Patton, are assigned to the case. In the dead woman's purse, Dick finds a note signed "Splitface," demanding that Dorothy deposit $500 in a trash can located at a street corner near the murder scene. Soon after, the mayor receives a note from Splitface, demanding that $10,000 be deposited in a trash can the next evening. Puzzled by the disparity in the amount of the extortion demands, Dick examines Dorothy's records and finds the name Wilbur Thomas. Upon driving to the Thomas home to investigate further, Dick and Pat discover Thomas' body, his throat slit in the same manner as Dorothy's. Dick follows the murderer's footprints and sees a man enter the backyard of Thomas' neighbor, Steven Owens. As Dick questions Owens, Pat slips into the house through a rear window. When Pat reports finding bloodstains on the carpet, Dick becomes suspicious of Owens, the owner of the Paradise Club. After finishing at Owens' house, Dick and Pat return to inspect Thomas' body and find a business card from the Paradise Club lying next to the corpse. The following evening, when no one appears to claim the mayor's extortion money, Dick begins to suspect that the victims are targets of a killer and must share some common thread. Trying to be inconspicious, Dick invites his sweetheart Tess Trueheart to accompany him while he checks out the Paradise Club. There, Dick is greeted by Owens' daughter Judith, who tells the detective that she saw a strange man in the garden. After obtaining a key from Judith, Dick and Tess drive to the Owens' house to investigate. At the house, they discover that the electricity has been turned off, and while Dick goes to look for the fuse box, Tess sees a man with a hideous scar across his face run out of a closet and speed away in his car. Trailing the man to a brownstone, Dick climbs to the roof and finds Professor Linwood J. Starling peering at the stars through a telescope. When the mystical Starling denies seeing Splitface, Dick insists on searching his room. There, Dick finds a knife under Starling's mattress. When questioned about the weapon, the professor gazes into his crystal ball and foretells that twelve more people will die. Just then, the police break down the door to the professor's room and take him to headquarters for further questioning. Their departure is watched by a man with a hideous scar on his face. Thinking that Splitface's scar may just be a disguise, Dick takes Tess back to the Paradise Club to see if she can identify Owens as Splitface. There, Judith informs them that her father has disappeared and hints that he owes some large gambling debts. Suspicious of Judith's jittery behavior, Dick takes her into protective custody. When Pat traces the knife found in Starling's room to a surgical supply store and reports that an undertaker named Deathridge purchased three knives, Dick goes to question Deathridge. The undertaker arouses Dick's suspicions when he claims that the knives have disappeared and asks about Starling. Believing there to be a connection between Deathridge and Starling, Dick returns to headquarters and tricks Starling into revealing what he knows about Deathridge. Dick's plan to bring Starling and Deathridge face to face is thwarted, however, when Deathridge is found murdered, his throat slit like the others. When Dick returns to headquarters from investigating the undertaker's murder, he learns that Starling has been released. Starling hurries home and as he packs his suitcase, he hears Splitface rap on the window. After accusing Starling of drawing police attention by sending extortion demands to Splitface's victims, Splitface pulls out a knife and slits the professor's throat. When Dick arrives at Starling's apartment, he finds the extortion money on the professor's body and realizes that Starling has been extorting money from Splitface's intended victims and that Deathridge was the latest in the list. Remembering Starling's prediction about fourteen victims, Dick realizes that fourteen is the number of people that serve on a jury. When Dick questions the mayor about his jury experience, the mayor remembers being a juror at the trial of Alexis Banning, who swore revenge on all those who convicted him. With the murderer finally identified, Judith decides to leave the Tracy house, even though her father is still missing. Tess calls Dick to inform him of Judith's departure, and as she speaks into the phone, Splitface breaks into the house and takes Tess hostage, warning Dick to call off the police. As Splitface speeds away in his car with Tess, Tracy Jr., Dick's adopted son, jumps onto the back of the car and throws off pieces of his clothing to create a trail. Following Junior's trail to the docks, Dick breaks into the warehouse in which Splitface is holding Tess and Junior. After subduing Splitface, Dick promises to take Tess to dinner, but is called away to solve another crime.