I’m welcoming a returning Alan Bardos to the blog, with a post about The Ladoux Mystery which features in his book, Enemies and Allies #histfic

Today, I’m delighted to welcome a returning Alan Bardos to the blog.

The Ladoux Mystery – the spy who framed Mata Hari?

Marguerite Zelle MacLeod, better known as Mata Hari was a sensation in the last years of the ‘Belle Epoque’ for her wild and exotic dances. However it was her espionage activities that have ensured her name is a household word over a hundred years after her execution in 1917 as a spy. The question as to whether she was actually a double agent is still a contentious issue and may never be resolved.

The Folies Bergère where Mata Hari performed in 1913

By 1914 Mata Hari’s popularity had began to wain in Paris and she had to cast her net further afield and rely more on the favour of rich and powerful men to support her lavish lifestyle. It was this that many of her biographers believe she was ultimately judged on. 

In August 1914 Mata Hari was performing in Berlin with a string of lovers.  When war was declared the mood against foreigners changed. Desperate to return to France and escape the war fever sweeping through Germany, she broke her contracts and fled. Unable to go to France and forced to leave her money and possession behind, she retuned to her native Holland.

282 Boulevard St Germain, where Mata Hari was recruited by French Intelligence.

While there, she was approached by Carl Cremer, an Honorary German consul in Holland who offered her 20,000 Francs to spy for Germany. Mata Hari accepted the money but whether or not she actually considered herself recruited as a spy is questionable. She may actually have taken the money in compensation for everything she left in Germany.

When Mata Hari returned to Paris in 1916 she was recruited to spy for the French, by Captain George Ladoux, the head of French counter Intelligence. She planned to pull off an intelligence coup by going to Belgium and seducing the German Governor-General. She would then cultivate him as an intelligence source and sell the information to Ladoux for a million Francs.

However on her way to Belgium, Mata Hari’s steamer had to pass through British waters and during a routine customs check she was mistaken for the spy Clara Benedix. She was interviewed in Scotland Yard by ‘Blinker’ Hall the head of naval Intelligence and Sir Basil Thompson the head of Special Branch. At the end of it they were convinced that she was not Benedix, but thought she was suspicious. They contacted Ladoux who informed them that he thought she was a spy and that he was pretending to use her in the hope that she might give herself away as a spy. Hall and Thompson released her, but would not allow her to travel onto Belgium and sent her to Spain.

On her own and ignored by Ladoux, Mata Hari used her initiative and seduced Major Arnold Kalle, the German military attaché in Spain. He gave her some low grade information which Ladoux did not consider worth a million francs. She was arrested not long after her return to Paris, Ladoux had by this time compiled a dossier of evidence against her.

The former Élysée Palace Hotel where Mata Hari was arrested

 Kalle had sent telegrams to his superiors in Berlin that incriminated Mata Hari. These telegrams had been intercepted by French intelligence and were the only real evidence presented at her trial that she was a double agent. French detectives followed Mata Hari when she was in Paris, but found no evidence that she actually gathered information or passed it on to Germany. However she admitted to taking their money on the understanding that she would.

France was swept with spy mania at the time, rocked by scandals of German plots to buy newspapers in an effort to undermine Frances will to fight, unrest was rife and the government needed to regain control.

Ladoux was therefore under considerable pressure to catch spies and there is evidence to suggest he doctored the telegrams to make them more incriminating and ensure her conviction. He certainly believed a ‘woman of the world’ like her to be guilty and her promiscuous lifestyle proved it.

However, Ladoux was also arrested as a spy three days after Mata Hari’s execution. This has given rise to speculation that he framed Mata Hari as a way of deflecting attention from his own espionage activities. Ladoux had been denounced by his former driver Pierre Lenoir, who had been arrested for buying a French newspaper with German money. When Lenoir was arrested he claimed that he had been set up by the Germans and that he was working for Ladoux.

While Lenoir was executed Ladoux was subject to extensive investigation, but was never put on trialand after his release continued to serve in the French army after the war. It is therefore unlikely that he was a spy. Nonetheless a cloud has hung over him ever since. 

Vincennes. Mata Hari was executed in the grounds of this castle, Ladoux and Lenoir’s files are in the archive attached to the complex

The investigations into Ladoux and Lenoir are still sealed, over a hundred years after the event, while Mata Hari’s file is now open, giving rise to a lot of speculation, but the truth may never be known.

Here’s the blurb

November 1916.

The war of attrition is taking its toll on the Allied powers and cracks are starting to appear.

Captain ‘Blinker’ Hall, Head of Naval Intelligence, must strive to keep the alliance with France alive – and use all his guile to bring the Americans into the war.

Johnny Swift, a reckless former diplomat turned soldier, is convalescing in London, working for Naval Intelligence.

Hall knows how to use Swift’s talents for duplicity to their fullest and sends him to Paris to flush out a traitor undermining the French war effort.

Room 40, the Royal Navy’s code breaking unit, deciphers a telegram that presents Hall with a dilemma. Its use could recruit America to their cause – but also give away the secret that the codes have been broken and cost Britain the war.

Swift takes up his role in Paris and is soon caught in a web of intrigue involving Mata Hari, the Dreyfus Affair, and the catastrophe of the Nivelle Offensive.

The fate of the conflict rests on a knife edge. 

The traitor still lurks in the shadows of Paris’s Art Nouveau grandeur and Swift must locate him before he can betray the Allied cause.

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Meet the author

Writing historical fiction combines the first great love of Alan Bardos’s life, making up stories, with the second, researching historical events and characters. He currently lives in Oxfordshire with his wife… the other great love of his life.

There is still a great deal of mystery and debate surrounding many of the events of the First World War, which he explores in his historical fiction series. Through the eyes of Johnny Swift, a disgraced and degenerate diplomat and soldier.

The series starts with the pivotal event of the twentieth century. The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The second book ‘The Dardanelles Conspiracy’ is based on an attempt by Naval Intelligence to bribe Turkey out of the First World War. In the third book Johnny will be employed as a useful idiot to flush out a traitor working to undermine the Allies.

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See previous posts here and here.