July 25, 1917 – Mata Hari Sentenced to Death for…

July 25, 1917 – Mata Hari Sentenced to Death for Espionage

Pictured – Singer, dancer, model, spy.

A French court found the famous Dutch dancer and courtesan Mata Hari guilty of espionage and July 25. She was sentenced to death by firing squad in October. Hari continued to protest her innocence.

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was born in a small Dutch town, but after a failed marriage went to Paris, where she began performing. Under her persona, “the Mata Hari,” or “the eye of the dawn” she claimed to be an Indian trained by temple priests for exotic rituals.  She was keen-witted, mysterious, and ravishing, often dancing with nothing more on than a bra.

A citizen of the neutral Netherlands with many friends in high places across all of Europe – it is no surprise that the Germans believed she would make the perfect spy. In  1914 she began receiving payments from German intelligence to report on what her confidantes told her. 

At the beginning of the war Mata Hari was 38 and her appearances were starting to dip. She accepted the money but claims to have done nothing more than pass on outdated information. Unfortunately, she was overconfident in her ability to outsmart spies on both sides of the war. She became a French agent too in 1916, but she was too talkative and always in need of money. When the information she sent to the French proved useless and outdated too, they cut off her money under the suspicion that she was playing both sides.

French authorities arrested Hari in February 1917. She had asked German authorities in Spain for money to see a wounded lover in the French army on the Western Front. Suspicious of her loyalty, the Germans allowed her messages to be intercepted by the French.  France was facing military defeat and political unrest, and the scandal of a famous, beautiful spy was exactly what would look good in the paper.