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Famous detective Charlie Chan, his son Jimmy and his chauffeur Birmingham are all on a bus traveling to San Francisco to investigate a murder case involving an armless, legless, headless torso. A short time later, when the bus breaks down, several passengers notice that they have been robbed. After they are joined by a U.S. Marine, who calls himself Jack Tilford, Chan speaks privately to another passenger, Cosgrove, suggesting that if he returns the stolen items, his crime will not be revealed. Grateful, the pickpocket promises to return the favor in the future. Back on the bus, Chan learns that Mrs. Conover is traveling to San Francisco to search for her missing granddaughter Mary. In San Francisco, Chan, Jimmy and Birmingham visit the Bureau of Missing Persons, where Chan reveals to Captain Allen that he has two purposes. The first, on behalf of an insurance company, is to discover the identity of the torso; the second is to learn the whereabouts of Mary Conover. Chan suspects that the torso belongs to a former showgirl named Grace Gortner, whose wealthy husband, Homer B. Pendleton, died after taking out a large insurance policy. On Allen's desk, Chan spots a photograph of A.W.O.L. Marine Corporal John Thompson and realizes that he is the same man who called himself "Tilford." Chan returns to the hotel where Mrs. Conover is staying with her friend, Kate Johnson. After reassuring Mrs. Conover that the body, which has an appendectomy scar, cannot be Mary's, he and Jimmy lunch in the hotel restaurant. There Chan recognizes their waitress as Mary with dyed blonde hair. Before Chan can bring her grandmother to confirm her identity, however, Mary is recognized by her former employer, Mike Rogan, and flees the hotel. Jimmy and Birmingham follow, but when Chan later meets them at Mary's apartment, they are joined by private detective Jeff Hay, who tells Chan he has followed their bus driver, who is actually Mike Rogan, to this location. Inside the apartment they discover Kate's body, and Chan suspects that the killer mistook her for Mary. Chan returns to the Bureau of Missing Persons and learns that Grace had been in love with a man named Craig Winfield before her marriage. Then John is picked up by the police and explains that he went A.W.O.L. to find Mary, with whom he was in love. He adds that Mary worked at an escort bureau and was frightened of her employer, Rogan. When Chan returns to his hotel, Hay is waiting with the information that he has found Rogan in Chinatown, but when they arrive there, Rogan is dead. Then Mary is picked up and explains that Rogan discovered that John's father was wealthy and suggested that she marry John, take out a large insurance policy and become a wealthy widow. After reuniting Mary and her grandmother, Chan asks Mary to help him set a trap for the owner of the escort bureau. At the escort bureau, Mary is waylaid by Hay, but when he learns that she is part of a police trap, he kidnaps her, intending to kill her. In the meantime, a photograph has come over the bureau's wire service that identifies Hay as Winfield. Following a hunch, Chan finds Hay and Mary in Chinatown. Although Hay tries to shoot Chan, Cosgrove has removed the bullets from his gun. Chan then explains that Hay killed Kate, mistaking her for Mary, and also killed Rogan, in order to blame him for the other deaths.