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The Origins and Acceptance of the Canonical Five

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  • The Origins and Acceptance of the Canonical Five

    A question was raised on one of the other threads. What are the origins of the ‘canonical five,’ and when did this concept first became prominent, or, at least, when did it first become known?

    There are far more qualified people that can address this, but I’ll give it a shot. We can agree, I think, that Melville Macnaghten was the prime mover of this idea, but his memorandum did not become widely known until after the late 1950s.

    Jon Menges mentions Frederick Wensley, who in 1931, stated in his autobiography that there were “officially five” victims. I believe Wensley’s full statement was “officially, only five (with a possible sixth) murder were attributed to Jack the Ripper.” So, this was the official view—the canonical five-- with a slight dash of wriggling room tossed in. Wensley, I think it is safe to say, is relying on Macnaghten’s unpublished memo, but he might also be tipping his hat to Swanson (?)

    Before Wensley, we had Macnaghten’s own Days of My Years (1913) where he briefly mentions the murders of Emma Smith and Martha Tabram, but states that the first “real” murder in the series was that of Polly Nichols. The last was Mary Kelly, which again gives us the canonical five.

    So, the canonical five is “on the books” by 1913. That said, it appears that Macnaghten’s opinion, with very few exceptions, was entirely ignored.

    Leonard Matters (1929) includes Turner/Tabram as a Ripper victim, as does Edwin Woodhall (1937). William Stewart (1939) dismisses Liz Stride’s murder as attributable to someone else. Walter Dew, in “I Caught Crippen” (1938) also seems to accept Tabram as a Ripper victim and even leans towards including Emma Smith.

    As for ‘general’ books about the history of Scotland Yard, many of these also include the earlier victims. “Critical Years at Scotland Yard,” by Belton Cobb (1956) includes a chapter on the Whitechapel Murders, beginning with the murder of ‘Martha Turner.’ Belton claims that Annie Chapman was the ‘third in the series.’ Kelly, once again, is the last.

    Between the wars the case was all but forgotten by the publishing world, and this would not change until the 1960s and 70s. An exception is “The Harlot Killer,” edited by Allan Barnard (1953) which is a weird mishmash of 13 chapters about Jack the Ripper by various authors, some fiction, some non-fiction. In his introduction, Barnard states that both Emma Smith and Martha Tabram were Ripper victims, as does the first author, Alan Hynd. A later chapter is nothing more than excerpts taken from The Times’ coverage of the various inquests in 1888, and this, too, accepts Smith and Tabram as part of the ‘series.’ Only a chapter near the end, by Edmund Pearson, argues in favor of the ‘canonical five,’ which he attributes to “more conservative writers”--evidently a reference to Macnaghten and those aware of him.

    So, all in all, it appears that during most of the 20th Century, Martha Tabram and often Emma Smith were generally accepted as ‘Ripper’ victims, and this didn’t change until the wide dissemination of the Macnaghten memo after Farson got hold of the Aberconway version. As far as I can tell, very few if any commentators considered Mylett or Mackenzie or Coles as genuine ‘Ripper’ victims, even before Macanghten’s opinions became known.

    During the 1960s the so-called ‘canon’ solidified into a mythical status, and “The Five” was embraced far and wide thereafter, up to, and including, the author Hallie Rubenhold.
    Last edited by rjpalmer; 06-07-2020, 02:52 PM.

  • #2
    Great summary. I have always wondered about this. Now have a little more clarity. For what is worth I think that Martha was the first victim and dare I say it, I am now coming around to see Mackenzie as the last victim.

    Best wishes,



    • #3
      Didn't Dr. Bond claim that only (the canonical) 5, plus McKenzie, were due to the same killer? Was that an official report or a newspaper article?
      Last edited by C. F. Leon; 06-16-2020, 03:36 PM.


      • #4
        should be c7 including tabram and McKenzie
        "Is all that we see or seem
        but a dream within a dream?"

        -Edgar Allan Poe

        "...the man and the peaked cap he is said to have worn
        quite tallies with the descriptions I got of him."

        -Frederick G. Abberline


        • #5
          Sir Robert Anderson wrote in TLSOMOL that, “The last and most horrible of that maniac’s crimes was committed in a house in Miller’s Court on the 9th of November.”

          But on page 135 of TLSOMOL, he had moved the goalposts—

          “The second of the crimes known as the Whitechapel murders was committed the night before I took office [31st August], and the third occurred the night of the day on which I left London [8th September].”

          Thus did Martha Tabram become the first in a series of six victims.
          Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.


          • #6
            Henry Cox in 1906 (Thompson's Weekly) also said there were six victims (Nichols, Chapman, Stride, Eddowes, Kelly) plus Tabram.


            • #7
              Broadly accepted...widely accepted as....presumed to be......assumed to be......isnt there anyone else who sees huge potential problems with any "Canonical" list of victims? If we look at Ripped victims, which is what I believe ALL single killer theorists believe Jack the Ripper was..a Ripper....then we have 4 victims.. tops. The word ripped being used euphemistically for mutilated. Alice would be included in that short list if we believe any "spree" continued on by a single killer after Mary Kelly.

              Despite that you can see even in this small sampling in the thread that people want to believe the Canonical list should be greater than the 5 presumed victims...hell, one member here believes all the unsolved murders from that decade, including the Torsos, were part of one single killers list. I suppose then that guy should be known as Jack the Rip/Stab/Cut/Kill/Dismember-er.

              Point being, there is as much evidence that Macnaughten short list of Suspects has any validity as there is one man killed more than 4 women. Or even 4 for that matter, since within just those 4 murders there are some very different elements, injuries and circumstances.

              There in reality should be no list at all until at the very least 2 victims can be proven to have been killed by the same person. Anyone have that evidence handy? Didnt think so.


              • #8

                There in reality should be no list at all until at the very least 2 victims can be proven to have been killed by the same person. Anyone have that evidence handy? Didnt think so.


                You seem to view those who tend to accept the Canonical 5 as members of some cult where non-belief is punishable by death or banishment at the very least. People accept the C5 because they think it more likely than not to be true. There is no requirement to believe it. Does anyone have absolutely 100% verifiable evidence that the C5 is the correct view? Of course not. And I am astounded after all of your time on the boards that you would ask what you think is this sort of "gotcha" question. But let's turn things around. Do you have 100% verifiable proof as to how many women Jack the Ripper actually killed? Of course not, all you have is conjecture like everybody else.

                Seriously, and I don't mean this to be snotty, but perhaps you should consider moving on from these boards. Ask yourself, how many people have you been able to bring around to your views? Maybe your approach to the case and your keen insights might be better appreciated somewhere else.



                • #9
                  Since no-one has any proof that any of the women in the Canonical Group, formed by conjecture and guesswork, are connected in their death with any other Canonical victim, how could you possibly say that the Group theory is "more likely to be true" cd? Based on what?

                  Thanks for inviting me to go elsewhere with my blasphemous suggestion that the Canonical Group concept should be at the very least be reduced, but I cant think of anywhere else where that kind of suggestion is needed more. Watching people argue points using the Group as a foundation is nothing but entertainment. Those discussions solve nothing. They just bring out the biases and prejudices that are out there. And since you seem not to know this, many people happen to share my opinion on that matter. Some much more schooled on these cases than you or I.

                  My belief is that this venue has been created so that Truths can be shared. Cases can be studied. Ideas can be shared. Its not my opinion that the creators and managers of this venue wanted to create a place where Truth is considered the same as common belief.


                  • #10
                    You seem fixated on the word "proof", Michael. Surely you have been around long enough to know that there is no "proof" of the C5. If there were, this discussion would not be taking place. But you are making an error in logic. Just because the C5 cannot be proven with absolute certainty it does not therefore follow that something less than the C5 is correct. That still has to be proven by its own merit. You seem to think that your position wins by default. That simply is not how it works. Provide proof for your position. Not just arguments. Can you do so?

                    I did not invite you to go somewhere else because of your position be it blasphemous or otherwise. I suggested it because of the ever growing level of frustration with those of us who have not seen the light evident in your posts.



                    • #11
                      Since no-one has any proof that any of the women in the Canonical Group, formed by conjecture and guesswork, are connected in their death with any other Canonical victim, how could you possibly say that the Group theory is "more likely to be true" cd? Based on what?

                      I shouldn't have spoken for others but for me it is the preponderance of the evidence meaning I think it more likely than not.



                      • #12
                        I'm of the opinion that the canonical five is a later invention/ guess by Macnaughton. It's not something I think was definitely established by the evidence nor generally agreed to by the investigating officers. It is lifted to near mythic status in recent years by the tendency of most popular histories in newspapers and TV documentaries to start with the murder Polly Nichols.

                        I used to have a book published around 1970 I believe, named something like the cases of the Black Museum (it may have been an edition of 'The Murders of the Black Museum' by Gordon Honeycombe but I can't be 100% sure), which covered the Ripper case which started with the murder of Emma Smith. Probably following the progress of the case as it was set out in the Whitechapel Murders case files. The importance of the canonical five has ebbed and waned over the years and it seems very recent that it has reached the status of unassailable orthodoxy.

                        Before the world ever heard the words 'Jack the Ripper', Emma Smith and Martha Tabram met untimely ends and the victimology, timings and location led to the very reasonable conclusion the two cases may have been connected and the Whitechapel Murders file were opened. Our modern idea seems to be the police wrongly started searching for a serial killer and as they did so a serial killer suddenly popped up and started an entirely unconnected string of murders with the same traits of victimology, timing and location but only out of pure coincidence. This is a proposition I find hard to swallow, but many who look at the era seem to believe it without ever thinking about questioning it's plausibility.

                        The police in 1888 believed the murders of Emma Smith, Martha Tabram and Polly Nichols to be related. It was only later that doubt is placed upon the earlier murders. With organised criminal gangs in operation if all the three women were not murdered by the same hand, it does not necessarily follow that their deaths were unconnected. Women who may have worked as prostitutes continued to be attacked in similar ways on the streets East London into the early part of the twentieth century.

                        There really is the possibility of something more brutal, cruel and systemic was happening to the women of Whitechapel and Spitalfields over a number of years which due to the fetishisation of the serial killer myth has been simply missed or ignored.

                        I worry that the 'canonical five' is widely considered an accepted fact when it may be better described as a later speculation by the very senior detectives who failed to find any satisfying answers from their investigations.


                        • #13
                          And another thing...

                          Another important source for the canonical five is Dr Thomas Bond's report dated November the 14th, 1888. In which Dr Bond examined the medical evidence in the cases Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Liz Stride, Kate Eddowes and Mary Kelly and concluded that all 5 murders were committed by the same hand.

                          It is a misunderstanding or wishful thinking to think they by this Dr Bond meant that *only* these five were murdered by the same hand in his opinion. The argument is that the evidence is strong that these five cases were connected and committed by the same hand.

                          He does not in fact consider the evidence in the cases of Emma Smith and Martha Tabram and the reason seems to be a focus on the victims with a cut throat.

                          The report states the canonical five cases discussed were connected. It is (rightly) silent on any cases not discussed in the report.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by c.d. View Post
                            Since no-one has any proof that any of the women in the Canonical Group, formed by conjecture and guesswork, are connected in their death with any other Canonical victim, how could you possibly say that the Group theory is "more likely to be true" cd? Based on what?

                            I shouldn't have spoken for others but for me it is the preponderance of the evidence meaning I think it more likely than not.

                            Scenario....2 people are found dead within the same neighborhood within 1 week. Both are the result of illegal drug overdoses. Is that enough to say that both people intended to kill themselves, that they died accidentally, or that someone intentionally overdosed them. Mutilated remains of cats are found openly displayed in the same park multiple times in a month. Several cats were also discovered in garbage bins, in a nearby neighbourhood also mutilated. Is that enough to suggest 1 person is responsible for both sets of crimes? Or did one person kill and mutilate cats and then leave his dirty deed to be found because that was part of his thrill, and did another person do something terrible and then try to hide his sins in garbage bags? Point here is it very possible 2 different people killed and mutilated cats for 2 different reasons. 1 was ashamed and secretive about it. 1 threw himself a Evil Man parade. Same actions, same animal, same kinds of mutilations....but different motives. 2 people. This is the reason I fight back here on the C5 concept, it seems to naively assume that only 1 person can have evil thoughts and do evil deeds at any given place, in any given period of time. What was done to any of the women could have been done by anyone with a knife and the stomach to do terrible things to someone (we dont know if all were strangers to him). In a few cases it appears that some knife skills and anatomical knowledege was needed, in some others, not at all. WHY they were done at all is the key. Not WHAT was done.

                            The person responsible for Pollys murder is I think someone that wanted to mutilate a body, a female body, and he likely enjoyed the emotions and reactions of the public to his evil acts. The fact that within 10 days and in the same neighborhood another woman is terribly mutilated and also just left in place displayed for all to see, and that the murder seems to follow an identical pattern to the previous one in victimology, actions taken and wounds inflicted, makes matching these first 2 "Canonicals" relatively easily. 1 man did these 2 murders, and part of his thrill was to watch, or read about, the shock and horror he caused with his acts. He only killed so he could mutilate, and he left the bodies in the open to frighten, shock and intimidate. Identifying this is a first step in creating a profile for this man. If you carry that profile forward, only Kate Eddowes could be logically included with those 2 victims.

                            This study has drawn people to it to try and discover what single person killed the Five women. Students start off assuming a series and think that this is then just a matter of identifying the culprit. Thats ass backwards detective work. Its the evidence that leads the way. Conclusions cannot be assumptions. Facts are not widely accepted premises. As we are a group of students more informed than your average person on these cases, and with the resources at our fingertips here, we can help future students immensely by creating a valid foundation from which to begin that is without predjudice, guesswork, or widely accepted premises.

                            There can be a day when someone decides to study the Ripper crimes without beginning with a Canonical Group. Its my hope anyway.


                            • #15
                              I just thought of something I would add to my previous post.....I said I thought he only killed so he could mutilate. Might that suggest he didnt have access to bodies to cut into in his normal existence? If someone doesnt mind, or even enjoys mutilating dead things, or even killing, as part of their job...does it seem feasible that he would still crave it even more than he already had access to? I dont think so. Surely his day to day activities would be enough for him,.. so maybe not a butcher, med student, hunter, or slaughterhouseman. Maybe just an accountant. Or a dock worker. Or a political terrorist action. Maybe it was just some dangerous kook running about at night who at one time had studied some anatomy.

                              Maybe just one man, but with 2 or 3 victims in total. One thing I think is a fixture in his MO is to attack strangers. Its far easier to evade investigations. Yet in Mary Kellys case one can make a very good case for her killer being well known to her..intimately. In Strides case the brevity of the attack and the lack of any evidence of any further intentions of the killer after the single 2 second cut, there are a number of possible scenarios that can address that murder without inserting a theory of interruptions... without any supporting evidence, into the mix. A "Ripper" wasnt in Berner Street that night. Though he may have been in Goulston later on.

                              Yes, 2 killers...or more.. can work on the same night,...poor Mrs Brown found that out on the Triple Event evening.