Felled by Bullets, Then Headless

An assassination that drew international attention in 1923 was that of Mexico’s Francisco “Pancho” Villa. A general in the Mexican Revolution, Villa’s infamy was legendary: as a teenager he joined a group of revolutionaries in the mountains where he became a soldier, in 1912 he narrowly escaped execution by a firing squad with an eleventh-hour telegram from President Madero. But on July, 20, 1923 his luck ran out when Villa was gunned down in the southern state of Chihuahua. As he was being driven down a street in Parral his car was ambushed by eight gunmen. He died instantly from sixteen bullet wounds: two bullets per assassin.

A Trophy for Grave Robbers

Villa was buried in a cemetery in Parral and three years later grave robbers desecrated his remains and made off with his head. The body of Pancho Villa was disinterred for a second time in 1976 when it was reburied at the monument to the Revolution in Mexico City. Another case of a head being robbed was that of Mata Hari. Her head was embalmed and kept in the Museum of Anatomy in Paris. In 2000, archivists discovered that it had disappeared, possibly as early as 1954. It remains missing. 

A Family Shamed

Mata Hari during World War I.

Mata Hari’s body was not claimed by any family members and was accordingly used for medical study. Margaretha Zelle was born 7 August 1876, in the Netherlands. She became known as Mata Hari the international exotic dancer who cavorted with high ranking military officers during World War I. She was assassinated by firing squad on October 15, 1917 for being a spy. During her trial in France she told the jury that yes she was a harlot, but a traitoress, never!

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