Harry Powell marries and murders widows for their money, believing he is helping God do away with women who arouse men's carnal instincts. Arrested for auto theft, he shares a cell with condemned killer Ben Harper and tries to get him to reveal the whereabouts of the $10,000 he stole. Only Ben's nine-year-old son, John, and four-year-old daughter, Pearl, know the money is in Pearl's doll; and they have sworn to their father to keep this secret. After Ben is executed, Preacher goes to Cresap's Landing to court Ben's widow, Willa. When he overwhelms her with his Scripture quoting, sermons, and hymns, she agrees to marry him. On their wedding night, he tells her they will never have sex because it is sinful.