Mata Hari is Executed - HISTORY
Year
1917
Month Day
October 15

Exotic dancer and spy Mata Hari is executed

Mata Hari, the archetype of the seductive female spy, is executed for espionage by a French firing squad at Vincennes outside of Paris.

She first came to Paris in 1905 and found fame as a performer of Asian-inspired dances. She soon began touring all over Europe, telling the story of how she was born in a sacred Indian temple and taught ancient dances by a priestess who gave her the name Mata Hari, meaning “eye of the day” in Malay. In reality, Mata Hari was born in a small town in northern Holland in 1876, and her real name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. She acquired her superficial knowledge of Indian and Javanese dances when she lived for several years in Malaysia with her former husband, who was a Scot in the Dutch colonial army. Regardless of her authenticity, she packed dance halls and opera houses from Russia to France, mostly because her show consisted of her slowly stripping nude.

READ MORE: The Exotic Dancer Who Became WWI’s Most Notorious Spy

She became a famous courtesan, and with the outbreak of World War I her catalog of lovers began to include high-ranking military officers of various nationalities. In February 1917, French authorities arrested her for espionage and imprisoned her at St. Lazare Prison in Paris. In a military trial conducted in July, she was accused of revealing details of the Allies’ new weapon, the tank, resulting in the deaths of thousands of soldiers. She was convicted and sentenced to death, and on October 15 she refused a blindfold and was shot to death by a firing squad at Vincennes.

There is some evidence that Mata Hari acted as a German spy, and for a time as a double agent for the French, but the Germans had written her off as an ineffective agent whose pillow talk had produced little intelligence of value. Her military trial was riddled with bias and circumstantial evidence, and it is probable that French authorities trumped her up as “the greatest woman spy of the century” as a distraction for the huge losses the French army was suffering on the western front. 

Tags
terms:
Spies

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Vichy leader executed for treason

Pierre Laval, the puppet leader of Nazi-occupied Vichy France, is executed by firing squad for treason against France. Laval, originally a deputy and senator of pacifist tendencies, shifted to the right in the 1930s while serving as minister of foreign affairs and twice as the ...read more

Clarence Thomas confirmed to the Supreme Court

After a bitter confirmation hearing, the U.S. Senate votes 52 to 48 to confirm Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. In July 1991, Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court, announced his retirement after 34 years. President George Bush ...read more

“Funeral coaches” exempted from car-seat law

On October 15, 2004, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rules that hearse manufacturers no longer have to install anchors for child-safety seats in their vehicles. In 1999, to prevent parents from incorrectly installing the seats using only their cars’ seat belts, ...read more

Draft card burning demonstrations staged across the country

In a demonstration staged by the student-run National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam, some of the first public burnings of draft cards in the United States takes place. These demonstrations drew 100,000 people in 40 cities across the country. In New York, David ...read more

Wayne Gretzky breaks NHL points record

On October 15, 1989, Los Angeles King Wayne Gretzky breaks Gordie Howe’s points record (1,850) in the final period of a game against the Edmonton Oilers. Gretzky’s record-setting goal tied the game; in overtime he scored another, and the Kings won 5-4. Gretzky had entered the ...read more

Gerald Ford marries Elizabeth Bloomer

On October 15, 1948, future President Gerald Ford marries Elizabeth Anne (“Betty”) Bloomer. The handsome, blonde, blue-eyed Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and went on to play football at the University of Michigan, where he was voted the team’s most valuable player in ...read more

Chiricahua Apache leader Victorio is killed south of El Paso, Texas

The warrior Victorio, one of the greatest Apache military strategists of all time, dies on October 15, 1880, in the Tres Castillos Mountains south of El Paso, Texas. Born in New Mexico around 1809, Victorio grew up during a period of intense hostility between the native Apache ...read more

A murderous husband is executed

Arthur Eggers, who was convicted of killing his wife, Dorothy, because of her alleged promiscuity, is executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin Prison. He probably would have gotten away with the crime had the investigators not received a few lucky breaks. In January 1946, ...read more

Mikhail Gorbachev wins Nobel Peace Prize

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in ending Cold War tensions. Since coming to power in 1985, Gorbachev had undertaken to concentrate more effort and funds on his domestic reform plans by going to extraordinary lengths to reach foreign ...read more

H.L. Hunley sinks during tests

On October 15, 1863, the H.L. Hunley, the world’s first successful combat submarine, sinks during a test run, killing its inventor and seven crew members. Horace Lawson Hunley developed the 40-foot submarine from a cylinder boiler. It was operated by a crew of eight—one person ...read more

High-ranking Nazi leader Hermann Göring dies

On October 15, 1946, Hermann Göring, commander in chief of the Luftwaffe, president of the Reichstag, head of the Gestapo, prime minister of Prussia, chief forester of the Reich, chief liquidator of sequestered estates, supreme head of the National Weather Bureau, and Hitler’s ...read more