- NAME: Mata Hari
- OCCUPATION: Dancer, Spy
- BIRTH DATE: August 07, 1876
- DEATH DATE: October 15, 1917
- EDUCATION: Teachers' College in Leiden
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Leeuwarden, Netherlands
- PLACE OF DEATH: Vincennes, France
- Full Name: Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod
- Originally: Margaretha Geertruida Zelle
- AKA: Margaretha MacLeod
- AKA: Margaretha Zelle
Best Known For
Mata Hari was a professional dancer and mistress who became a spy for France during World War I. Suspected of being a double agent, she was executed in 1917.
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Real or imagined spies were convenient scapegoats for explaining military losses, and Mata Hari's arrest was one of many. Her chief foil, Captain Georges Ladoux, made sure the evidence against her was constructed in the most damning way—by some accounts even tampering with it to implicate her more deeply.
So when Mata Hari admitted that a German officer paid her for sexual favors, prosecutors depicted it as espionage money. Additionally,
currency she claimed was a regular stipend from a Dutch baron was portrayed in court as coming from German spymasters. That amorous Dutch baron, who could have shed light on the truth, was never called to testify. Nor was Mata Hari's maid, who acted as an intermediary for the baron's payments. Mata Hari's morals conspired against her, as well. "Without scruples, accustomed to make use of men, she is the type of woman who is born to be a spy," concluded Bouchardon, whose relentless interviews were the blueprint for the prosecution.
The military tribunal deliberated for less than 45 minutes before returning a guilty verdict. "It's impossible, it's impossible," Mata Hari exclaimed, upon hearing the decision.
Mata Hari was executed by firing squad on October 15, 1917. Dressed in a blue coat accented by a tri-corner hat, she had arrived at the Paris execution site with a minister and two nuns and, after bidding them farewell, walked briskly to the designated spot. She then turned to face the firing squad, waved away her blindfold and blew the soldiers a kiss. She was killed in an instant when their multiple gunshots exploded as one.
It was an improbable end for the exotic dancer and courtesan, whose name became a metaphor for the siren spy who coaxes secrets from her paramours. Her execution merited a scant four paragraphs inside The New York Times, which called her "a woman of great attractiveness and with a romantic history."
Mystery continues to surround Mata Hari's life and alleged double agency, and her story has become a legend that still piques curiosity. Her life has spawned numerous biographies and cinematic portrayals, including, most famously, the 1931 film Mata Hari, starring Greta Garbo as the courtesan-dancer and Ramon Novarro as Lieutenant Alexis Rosanoff.
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