Oct 15, 2016

October 15: Death Of An Exotic Dancer And The Mystery Of A Missing Head

On October 15th 1917 wold famous exotic dancer Mata Hari was executed by firing squad in Paris France. Born Margaretha Zelle in Leeuwarden, Netherlands in 1876 to a Dutch father of means and Javanese mother (making her Eurasian, a fact she built upon for her act) Zelle worked under the name Mata Hari quickly becoming a world traveling exotic dancer, mesmerizing society's elite with her famous fan dance. Starting relatively late, at about 29, Mata Hari debuted her unique style of exotic dancing in Paris in 1905 (so carefree she would finish her shows completely naked save for a bra as she was self conscious about her small breast size) and by 1910 worked her way into the highest social circles as a courtesan to royalty and military elite. Her work allowed her to travel freely between borders during World War I. The French government offered Mata Hari a million francs (about $170,000) to seduce the Crown Prince Wilhelm, son of Kaiser Wilhelm II and Senior German General on the Western Front, and provide France with secret German intelligence.
         In 1916 the French intercepted a German transmission involving an agent (Agent H-21) that attempted to set up a meeting with the Crown Prince Wilhelm to give him information about French secrets. Realizing that Agent H-21 was Mata Hari she was arrested and charged with being a double agent. Mata Hari argued that this was only a way for her to get close enough to the Prince to collect the type of secrets they asked for.
       The trial was a sham, her lawyer was not allowed to cross examine witnesses or present his own, and despite having no evidence that Mata Hari was a double agent she was convicted and sentenced to death. For Mata Hari, the worst part was when her lover,  Russian pilot Captain Vadim Maslov, who had fallen into deep depression after being blinded in battle, declined to testify on her behalf saying he couldn't care less if she was convicted or not. She reportedly fainted at hearing this news.
          On October 15, 1917, at the age of 41, Mata Hari declined a blindfold, blew a kiss to the firing squad, and stared blankly at the executioners as she was shot, not flinching or breaking her stare as she fell to her knees and died. She was shot once more in the head at close range for good measure, and having no one to claim her body, she was donated to science. Her head was embalmed and kept in the Museum of Anatomy in Paris, but almost one hundred years later it was discovered that the head (as well as the rest of her body) had disappeared, no one quite sure when either went missing.
Mata Hari's arrest photo. Public Domain.