As far as the police were concerned, the Jack the Ripper Whitechapel murders spanned three years (1888-1891) and included a proposed eleven victims: Emma Smith, Martha Tabram, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, Mary Jane Kelly, Rose Mylett, Alice McKenzie, Frances Coles and one unfortunate, unidentified headless torso. All these identified women were known to be local prostitutes living in common lodging houses in a relatively small area.
Were all these murders the work of one man? Was Jack the Ripper responsible for all their deaths? While many people believe that he was, it is also possible that he was not.
In 1894, Melville Macnaghten, former Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police, wrote a private memorandum in which he claimed that “the Whitechapel murderer had five victims and five victims only”, setting a standard for the perceived number of victims after the document was first publicised in the late 1950s. These five victims - Nichols, Chapman, Stride, Eddowes, and Kelly – have become known as the ‘Canonical Five’ and are sometimes referred to as the ‘five official’ or ‘five known’ victims. The similarity in the way they were killed (throats cut, abdominal mutilations and, in three cases, internal organs removed) suggests that this idea is a sound one, but it does have its detractors.