World War I German Spy Mata Hari

About the World War I German Spy Mata Hari, her history and biography.

Mata Hari. Dutch. Worked for: Germany, W.W. I.

Her real name was Margaretha Gertruida Zelle, and she was born in Holland in 1876. When she was 18, Gertrude left a religious school to marry a 40-year-old captain in the Dutch colonial army, Rudolf MacLeod. Some say that they met through a newspaper ad. The MacLeods lived in Java, but because her husband was an alcoholic, a wife beater, and had brutal fits in which he dragged Gertrude about by her hair, she left him and moved to Paris. She joined the chorus line of a vaudeville show but was not "cute" enough to be "discovered." Refusing to be a nobody, Gertrude established herself as Mata Hari, exotic Indian dancer, and concocted a lineage of lies to back up her story. Heavy face makeup glamorized her "regular" features, and her sensuous striptease routines more than made up for her thick waistline. According to one observer, she had "a body which lacked corporeal exaggerations and was no more exciting nude than dressed." Her expensive life-style was paid for by the Germans who commissioned her to spy on French officials and other foreign dignitaries whom she met in her "career" travels. Actually, she was highly overpaid, did very little spying, and some critics go so far as to say that she was simply an excuse for German officers to dip into the secret-service funds in order to pay for their recreation and entertainment. When she became too much of a luxury item for the German secret service, they betrayed her by mentioning her in a telegram which was "easily" decoded by the French. She was captured, tried, and sentenced. In 1917, courtesan-dancer-spy Mata Hari died before a French firing squad. She was 41.

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