While exploring a ruined temple in the Azteca Ruins National Monument near San Juan, New Mexico, archaeologist Andrew Forbes discovers a treasure that once belonged to ancient Aztec emperor Montezuma.
The fortune is guarded by a winged serpent that Forbes calls Queztalcoatl after the Aztec god. Forbes keeps the creature imprisoned in a secret chamber along with the treasure. Soon after ornithologist Dr. John Lambert publishes an article in which he mentions that Montezuma’s legendary treasure might be buried near the temple, Forbes’s stepdaughter Mary calls on Lambert to discuss Forbes’s strange behavior.
She explains that since the disturbing death of her mother, Forbes has become obsessed with the Aztecs. While they talk, Forbes angrily interrupts and accuses Lambert of attracting fortune hunters who will interfere with his archaeological studies.
Before he leaves, Forbes furtively drops an unusual feather on Lambert’s floor. Lambert recognizes it as belonging to the Quetzal, a half-bird, half-reptile creature that brutally kills its victims and drains their blood. His description reminds Mary of the similar death of her mother.
That evening, when Mary describes the feather to Forbes, he tells her that he will go immediately and apologize to Lambert, who is driving to Azteca to consult with superintendent Hastings, for his earlier anger.
At the ruins, Forbes releases the creature, who then kills Lambert. Hearing about the strange murder, mystery writer Richard Thorpe convinces a radio station to sponsor an investigation. Thorpe’s investigative party also includes ornithologist Lewis Havener and Jerry Jones, a broadcast technician.
At the inquest into Lambert’s death, Sheriff Billy Hayes testifies that although Lambert seemed to have been killed by a large beast, there were no animal tracks nearby. After the inquest, Forbes offers to work with Thorpe. The two men drive to the ruins together to look at the murder site.
There, Forbes intentionally drops another feather for Thorpe to discover, then makes an excuse to leave. When Hayes joins him, Thorpe goes after Hastings, leaving the sheriff to guard the feather. While the sheriff examines the feather, Forbes releases the creature, who kills Hayes.
Hastings and Thorpe, who have just returned to the site, see the creature flying away. Later, at a radio station, Mary watches Thorpe’s broadcast, while Havener examines the feather. Soon the creature flies through the open window and kills Havener. Later treasure-hunter Vance Bennett arrives in town to look for Montezuma’s gold.
Unknown to the others, Bennett is actually Thorpe’s friend and will help set a trap for the murderer, who, Thorpe theorizes, is Forbes. Thorpe believes that the creature is attracted to its victims by the smell of the feathers and will kill to get them back. The trap works and Thorpe confirms his theories.
Before he can reveal the killer, however, Mary tells Forbes that she suspects he may have something to do with the deaths. Forbes lures Mary to the secret chamber, and releases the creature. Thorpe saves Mary, but the creature kills Forbes. Thorpe then kills the creature. Later, Thorpe broadcasts an account of the events and announces his engagement to Mary.
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