Today, October 15, in 1917, a famous courtesan was executed for her alleged interactions with various high-ranking military officials during World War I. Because those interactions were of a highly intimate and sensitive nature, the implication was that she’d shared, heard, or otherwise contained strategies and information for German progress through the war.
Mata Hari, born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in the Netherlands, arrived in Paris around 1905 to make her name. She did so in March of that year performing her first striptease at the Musée Guimet, where she peeled her clothes off until all that remained was a jeweled bra and a body stocking matching her skin tone.
After being charged for her crimes by the French authorities in February of 1917, she was taken before a firing squad and refused the blindfold before being shot to death.
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. Her only real crimes may have been an elaborate stage fallacy and a weakness for men in uniform.