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Defiant to the End

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Margaretha Zelle went by the name Mati Hari.

Margaretha Zelle was born on August 7, 1876, in Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. By the time she was 28 she had become an exotic dancer known as Mata Hari. During World War I Zelle became the confidant and lover of several different French officers. Her allure was tantalizing for the young men and many believed that Mati Hari was able to coerce military secrets from them. She was arrested for being a spy and sentenced to death by firing squad. Zelle gave her own testimony at the trial which included, “A harlot? Yes, but a traitoress, never!”

Death by Firing Squad

Twelve French soldiers executed Mati Hari on October 15, 1917.

Zelle was executed by a firing squad of 12 French soldiers just before dawn on 15 October 1917. She was 41. The dancer was not bound and refused a blindfold. Moments before her body was riddled with bullets she defiantly blew a kiss to the firing squad.

One last bullet was shot into Zelle’s head after her execution.


Mata Hari’s family felt great shame at the way her life had turned out and did not wish to claim her body. Instead, Margaretha Zelle’s remains were used for medical study. Her head was embalmed and kept in the Museum of Anatomy in Paris. Not until the year 2000 did archivists discover that her head had disappeared. It is believed that Zelle’s head was stolen in 1954. As for the rest of her remains, they also went missing in the 1950s. Apparently, Mati Hari’s body was coveted even in death.