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In New Orleans, wildcat oilman Bob Matthews enjoys the Mardi Gras with Marie, an aggressive young woman who wants to come with him when he looks for oil in the Louisiana bayous. That same afternoon, Lt. Lee Hampton meets with her supervisor, Capt. Goodrich, to outline her plan to recover a stash of diamonds stolen by the notorious Nardo gang over three years before. Three women who were part of the gang are serving time in prison, and Lee suggests that she go undercover as a convict and help the women escape, thereby leading authorities to the diamonds. Although the captain fears that the assignment will be too dangerous, he admires Lee's courage and accepts her proposal. Some time later, Lee becomes a cellmate of the three women: Vera, a ruthless hothead; Billie, the most flirtatious and weakest of the three; and Josie, the stable leader of the group. Pretending to be anxious to escape, Lee convinces the women to let her have an equal share of the diamonds in exchange for helping them. One night, all four women jump out their second-story cell window, dash across the yard and scale the prison fence. Outside the gates, they find the car that Lee had promised would be waiting for them and speed off, eluding the authorities. Although Vera, Josie and Billie remain suspicious of Lee, they agree to let her join them in their trip through the bayous, where the diamonds are hidden. After obtaining supplies through a cohort, the women paddle up river until their canoe begins to leak, forcing them to the shore. Minutes later, Bob and Marie approach them in their motorboat. Bob stops to offer help, but is immediately taken prisoner by the women, who shoot and kill his boatman. The terrified Marie becomes hysterical, which irritates Vera, who wants to kill her and Bob. Josie stops her after agreeing with Lee that Bob and Marie should instead be taken hostage. After they camp on shore that night, Marie tries unsuccessfully to convince Vera to let her go. When the women fall asleep after splitting a bottle of whiskey, Marie tries to get away in the boat but the noise wakes everyone up and Vera fires a shot at Marie, causing her to fall out of the boat. As Marie frantically tries to keep above water and away from an approaching alligator, Lee swims toward her, followed by Bob. The alligator kills Marie, but Bob wrestles the beast, killing it with his knife to save Lee, who surprises Bob by apologizing. As they journey on over the next several days, arguments and physical fights between Vera and Lee continue. Billie makes advances on the unresponsive Bob, who is attracted to Lee and senses that she is not like the others. As they near their destination, Vera says that she will use her part of the money to buy a town in Mexico so she can order everyone around for the rest of her life. Billie says she will get plastic surgery to change her appearance in order to ruin the lives of everyone who was responsible for the executions of the Nardo gang men, while Josie plans to open a boardinghouse in Mexico for people "on the lam." The boat finally reaches the spot where the diamonds have been buried. Bob secretly suggests to Lee that she untie him and they jump the others, but she stoically warns that they are watching. Josie then recovers the box filled with $200,000 in gems. As they camp for the night on the return trip, Billie secretly suggests to Josie that it would be better if only the two of them split the $200,000, but Josie angrily orders her to stop. Tensions continue to mount between Lee and Vera, who resents that Josie sides with Lee. In the middle of the night, Vera quietly takes the diamonds and guns and is about to kill the sleeping Bob, when his head accidentally falls onto her chest. She then makes a play for him and demands that he come with her. The next morning, when Josie, Billie and Lee awaken and discover what Vera has done, they are puzzled that she did not take the motorboat. The women then carefully walk through the brush until they see Bob tied to a tree. Certain that Vera plans to kill them, Josie devises a plan and makes a spear out of a branch attached to a knife. She, Billie and Lee then fan out, calling to Vera from different directions. When Vera, who has climbed a tree to observe their progress, starts to shoot at them, Bob looks up toward her, alerting Josie, who throws the spear. Badly wounded by the spear, Vera shoots and kills a rattlesnake that is about to strike Bob, then falls to her death. Josie comments on the irony that Vera, who loved killing, saved Bob's life as her final act, but Lee contends that Vera's last act was killing a snake. Meanwhile, Capt. Goodrich contacts the police boat sailing the bayous. Although Goodrich previously had told them to keep their distance, he now orders them to close in, but warns them that Lee's life should not be placed in jeopardy. That night, as Billie thinks of her increased share of the diamonds, Josie reluctantly concludes that they have to kill Bob, even though he is a nice guy. Lee says that she does not like killing and again argues that shots might attract the police. In response, Josie gives her a knife, but when she demands Lee's gun, the women start to fight. Even though Bob's hands are tied, he goes after Billie. When Billie shoots at Bob, the noise attracts the nearby police boat. In their struggle, Lee knocks out Josie, then Billie. Bob then unties and embraces Lee but tells her that he has to turn her in. As the police boat pulls up, Lee responds with a smile when Bob tells her not to worry because he will stand by her.