Richard Harland comes home to rural Maine after two years in jail. Yet people are sympathetic to him. His lawyer Glend explains the case to a friend.
Flashback to the past:
Richard meets Ellen Berent on a train heading to New Mexico. He's bowled over by her beauty. She's drawn to him because he looks just like her dear departed dad. Never mind that Richard is the writer of the novel she's been reading. Richard and Ellen discover they're Glenn's guests at his ranch, along with Ellen's mother and adopted sister Ruth.
On the stunning red rock landscape that looks nothing like New Mexico and a lot like Utah, Ellen rides a horse and tips a jar from side to side. She's scattering the ashes of her recently-cremated father. What if those ashes got on her sweater? The horse? Despite that, Richard is mesmerised by Ellen, just as Ruth and Mrs. Berent expect. They keep telling him, "Ellen went thataway." Ellen is engaged but breaks it off with her fiance, a lawyer named Quinton. A stunned Quinton flies out to see her, but she announces her engagement to Richard, much to everyone's surprise. Especially Richard's.
After getting married, Richard and Ellen head to Georgia to be with his younger handicapped brother Danny who's residing in a nursing home. Danny gets well enough to leave the nursing home and threatens Ellen's plans to have Richard totally to herself. Ellen begs the doctor to keep Danny but it's no good. Richard and Ellen move back to his place in rural Maine with Danny in tow. Ruth and Mrs. Berent come for a visit. It goes badly and ends soon when Ellen lashes out. Why can't she have Dick all to herself? Why why why?
Ruth and Mrs. Berent offer to take Danny to their place in Bar Harbour but Danny prefers to stay. Ellen gets Danny to swim in the nearby lake in an effort to impress Richard with his progress. Danny drowns. Ellen watches.
Richard and Ellen move in with the Berents in Bar Harbour. Richard withdraws from Ellen. Desperate to get him back, Ellen gets pregnant. Such a good idea. But the pregnancy is difficult and Ellen is confined to bed rest. Jealous of the time Richard is spending with Ruth, Ellen accidentally-on-purpose falls down the stairs and terminates the pregnancy. Her marriage is terminal, too. Richard's new novel is published. Ellen's chagrined to find it's dedicated to Ruth. Richard and Ellen fight. She tells him she wants to be with him so much she let Danny drown. Good move, Ellen! Richard leaves her.
But he returns when Ellen is found dead from ingesting arsenic. Ruth is put on trial after Ellen's letter to former fiance and current District Attorney Quinton falsely accuses Ruth of having an affair with Richard and threatening Ellen's life. Quinton cross-examines Ruth relentlessly. Ruth confesses she's in love with Richard. Good move, Ruth! Quinton cross-examines Richard. He reluctantly reveals Ellen was so obsessed with him she drowned Danny, ended her pregnancy and most likely killed herself to incriminate Ruth. Ruth is acquitted, but Richard is jailed for concealing the truth about Ellen's crimes.
Fast forward to the present:
Richard returns to his home in rural Maine and finds Ruth waiting for him. They're together at last.