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When the Louisiana Highway Commission decides to build a road through her property, Charlotte Hollis threatens the workmen with a shotgun. Thirty-seven years earlier Charlotte's married lover, John Mayhew, was murdered; and though the killer was never discovered, the local townspeople are convinced of Charlotte's guilt. Charlotte herself, believing that her father killed Mayhew, became a recluse, living with her housekeeper, Velma, in the deteriorating Hollis mansion. Now she seeks help in her fight against the Highway Commission from Miriam, a poor cousin who lived with the family as a girl. Upon returning, Miriam renews her relationship with Drew Bayliss, the local doctor who jilted her after the murder. The eccentric Charlotte becomes progressively wilder with Miriam's arrival--her nights haunted by mysterious piano playing of the song Mayhew wrote for her and by the appearance of Mayhew's disembodied hand and head. Velma, realizing that Miriam and Drew are trying to drive Charlotte completely mad in order to get her money, seeks help from Mr. Willis, a Lloyd's of London insurance investigator who is still interested in the Mayhew case and who has visited Mayhew's ailing widow, Jewel; but Miriam kills Velma when the housekeeper tries to remove Charlotte from the mansion for safety. Miriam and Drew trick Charlotte into shooting Drew with a gun loaded with blanks, and Miriam helps Charlotte dispose of the body in a swamp. Drew's reappearance later reduces Charlotte to whimpering insanity. Believing Charlotte completely mad and secure in her room, Miriam and Drew go into the garden to discuss what they have done. As Miriam embraces Drew, she looks up to see Charlotte, who has overheard them, push a huge stone urn from the balcony above, crushing them to death. Later, as Charlotte is taken away by the authorities, Willis hands her an envelope from the now-dead Jewel Mayhew; it contains Jewel's confession of the murder of her husband.