7. Mata Hari: The Dutch Exotic Dancer Shot by the French for being a German Spy.
In 1905, Dutch housewife Margaretha Zelle abandoned her unhappy marriage to take up a career in Paris as an exotic dancer. Margaretha invented a whole new persona for herself: Mata Hari from the Indonesian “eye of the day.” As Mata Hari, Zelle tantalized Europe with her semi-nude routines that were an early form of striptease. She toured all the major cities of Europe, drawing crowds of thousands wherever she went. Amongst those fans were some of the most important men of the day.
Then in 1914, war broke out. Mata Hari’s international fame meant she had freedom of movement across Europe. This freedom made her an attractive prospect as a spy. The French recruited her almost immediately. However, in 1915, Mata Hari turned double agent. According to her account, Mata Hari was in The Hague and desperate to return to Paris. The German’s agreed to help her- in return for information. Mata Hari did what she believed was a one-time deal. However, for the German’s she became agent H21.
Early in 1917, a telegram arrived at a hotel on the Champs-Elysees where Mata Hari was staying. It was from Arnold Von Kalle, the German military attachÃ© in Madrid. The telegram was coded, but the allied forces already knew how to crack it. When the code breakers read it, they found it addressed to an Agent H21 who matched Mata Hari in intimate detail. The Allied forces arrested the exotic dancer. After her interrogation, they found her guilty of passing on information to the German’s that severely damaged the Allied cause and caused thousands of deaths. However, Mata Hari maintained that she had only passed on information one time and had otherwise remained loyal to the allied cause.
Many people now believe Mata Hari was set up. One theory is the allies used her as a scapegoat for their military failures. However, another suggests that the Germans already knew the Allies had cracked their code. So they sent a telegram implicating Mata Hari so the French would kill their own spy. Either way, in October 1917, Mata Hari was taken from Saint Lazare prison in Paris and executed by firing squad. She reputedly showed great bravery, refusing a blindfold and maintaining eye contact with her executioners until the end. However, after her death, her body was not claimed. So the remains of one of the twentieth century’s most glamorous and notorious female traitors ended up as a subject for dissection practice at the Paris School of Medicine.