Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” Zelle MacLeod (7 August 1876 – 15 October 1917) had a stage name: Mata Hari. It means literally Eye of the Day and refers to the sun. She was born and raised in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, the oldest of four. Her father was an affluent retailer and investor who was able to gift his daughter with a high quality education in exclusive all girl schools. Her life began to unravel when her father and mother divorced after a bankruptcy. She lived with her godfather and attended a school where she trained to teach kindergarten. The headmaster made advances on her and this was her first indication that she was very appealing and in that appeal, she was powerful.
After leaving the school she lived with her uncle and answered an advertisement from a Dutch Colonial Army Captain named Rudolf MacLeod. He was looking for a wife. The two hit it off and tied the knot in Amsterdam in July 1911. They had two children Louise and Norman, and both were the target of a poisoning attempt by political rival of John McLeod or an troubled servant. Norman died. Louise died at 21 supposedly from syphilis. She and McLeod divorced after his tendency to drink and physically abuse her. Zelle fled to Paris and began taking lessons in Indian Dancing. In Paris she became an exotic dancer and through her own initiative and talent she grew an audience and thrust herself into underground fame.
What Zelle became was a genius self promoting entertainer. A courtesan, she wore sheer clothing, sometimes partially nude, nothing by the standards today but back then she was a pornographic star. She invented an entirely imagined and aureate childhood of riches in the far east and the confluence of mysterious lovers.
From the affluent neighborhoods of Netherlands, to the poor apartment complexes in the city, to the upper echelons of the Dutch aristocracy to the poorhouse in Paris, back then to the richer neighborhoods near the Eifel Tower. This was the arc of Margaretha.
Little did she know that the British intelligence service MI5 was actively tapping her phone calls and intercepting her telecommunications with German agents. Ahe denied this of course, and no doubt was quite charismatic as she testified in her own behalf. But Sir Basil Thompson of Scotland Yard pursued her until she was convicted of spying for the Germans.
It wasn’t until recently that the MI5 released all the documents that proved her culpability and eager participation into spying for the Kaiser. She entered the German spy service and received extensive training in document fraud, and coded transmissions. In one operations she was leaked the name of Belgian spies, one of them, a woman, was soon thereafter murdered. This convinced the Brits that she was the mole. She was arrested at Hotel Elysée Palace and placed on trial, charged with helping to kill 50,000 British.
She was executed by firing squad on 15 October 1917, when she was 41 years old.
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia Commons