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Mata Hari lost her head—literally.

Mata Hari lost her head—literally.

Mata Hari is one of the most notorious and intriguing figures of the twentieth century. Born Margarethe Geertruide Zelle in the Netherlands, Mata Hari was an exotic dancer and a courtesan to rich and powerful men, including high-ranking political officers—and the French Minister of Defense.

During World War I, Mata Hari was asked by the French to use her charms and exploit her contacts to get information, but when she was less than successful, the French immediately branded her a double agent for the Germans. On February 13, 1917, she was arrested and put on trial for spying for the Germans and causing the deaths of 50,000 soldiers.

Despite no concrete evidence, Mata Hari was convicted and executed by firing squad on October 15, 1917, at the age of 41. Since no family member stepped forward to claim Mata Hari’s body, it went to the Museum of Anatomy in Paris where her head was severed, preserved in wax, and put in the museum’s collection of notorious criminals.

In 2000, the French Minister of Education threatened to close the failing Museum of Anatomy. In an effort to save it, the director of the museum decided to present the Minister with a list of the important treasures of the museum, including the celebrity skulls. It was then that they made a startling discovery—Mata Hari’s head was nowhere to be found. Worse, not only was her head missing, none of the documents nor the rest of her remains could be located. It is possible the remains have been missing since 1954 when the museum was moved; however, rumors persist that Mata Hari’s head was stolen by an admirer. Whatever the explanation, the enigmatic Mata Hari is still a woman at large.