Liminal Criminals: A Fake Crime Podcast

Tales of the Smooth Jazz Killer, Part 1

February 15, 2023 SCWR Productions Season 2 Episode 1
Tales of the Smooth Jazz Killer, Part 1
Liminal Criminals: A Fake Crime Podcast
More Info
Liminal Criminals: A Fake Crime Podcast
Tales of the Smooth Jazz Killer, Part 1
Feb 15, 2023 Season 2 Episode 1
SCWR Productions

On this new season's inaugural episode of Liminal Criminals, we delve into the life of Kensington Hawthorne, better known as "The Smooth Jazz Killer." From his not-so-humble beginnings as the scion of the Hawthorne family, to his early career as a jazz-bar pianist in Manhattan, we dig into the origins of this depraved musical genius.

Well, uh, "genius" might be a bit of a strong word there.

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CONTENT WARNING: Liminal Criminals is a fictional crime/comedy podcast, and contains elements which may not be suitable for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised.       

Show Notes Transcript

On this new season's inaugural episode of Liminal Criminals, we delve into the life of Kensington Hawthorne, better known as "The Smooth Jazz Killer." From his not-so-humble beginnings as the scion of the Hawthorne family, to his early career as a jazz-bar pianist in Manhattan, we dig into the origins of this depraved musical genius.

Well, uh, "genius" might be a bit of a strong word there.

Follow us on Twitter, or on Facebook

Follow, rate, and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or your podcast platform of choice.

Find us online at

CONTENT WARNING: Liminal Criminals is a fictional crime/comedy podcast, and contains elements which may not be suitable for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised.       


December 8th, 1995. On a frostbitten winter’s night in New York City, a crowd of firefighters and onlookers gathers outside of Mezzo, a dinner theater in the heart of Manhattan. As flames billow out of the establishment’s door, the backdraft carries a singed flier past a sobbing throng of the conflagration’s few survivors. On it is printed a photo of a young smooth-jazz virtuoso whose name is still whispered by music historians across the nation: Kensington Hawthorne.

To this day, aficionados of smooth jazz and violent death alike still have questions. 

Why did such a tragedy occur? How did this up-and coming artist’s career come to a fiery end? Why is the name “Kensington Hawthorne” infamous among musicians and music-lovers alike? Well, the episode is called “Tales of the Smooth Jazz Killer,” so I’m guessing you’re a couple steps ahead of me there. 

I’m Sam Putnam. And you’re Liminal Criminals. 

[Intro theme]

Kensington Hawthorne was born in 1970 in Manhattan, to Reginald and Bunny Hawthorne. Reginald Hawthorne, son of Blot-Out-The-Remembrance-of-Amalek-From-Under-Heaven Hawthorne and cofounder of the Hawthorne Nursery and Munitions Company, had descended from a long line of zealous Puritans, and was renowned among the New York upper crust for his dour and irascible nature. In minutes recovered from the 1940 convocation of the Pleasance Trust for Better Patriots, Reginald proclaimed that American munitions factories should refuse to sell armaments to any government, so that, quote, “This assembly of America’s greatest citizens may turn the artillery and bayonets of industry upon communists, union agitators, and so-called ‘abstract painters.’” He was expelled from the Trust following its 1941 convocation, where he struck Trust president Marvin Pleasance across the jaw with a mahogany cane following an argument about how one could best harvest phosphorus from dead factory workers’ bones.

The Hawthorne children could count themselves fortunate, then, to know that their father saw no reason to be involved in their upbringing. Kensington Hawthorne, his older brother Marcus Hawthorne, his younger brother Third One Hawthorne, and his younger sister Who Gives A Damn Name It Whatever You Want Hawthorne were instead raised by a rotating cast of nannies and tutors. 

In 1976, Kensington was sent away to boarding school at the Ironwood Preparatory Academy for Boys, the same institution attended by all Hawthorne men since its founding in 1782. Kensington appeared to be a thoroughly unremarkable student. His grades, his performance in the youth lacrosse team, and the number of beatings he incurred for idleness, were all well within the norm for a student his age. It wasn’t until 1980, at the age of 10, when Kensington discovered his passion for music. 

Upon entering the fifth grade, Kensington Hawthorne joined the Ironwood Academy’s chamber music program, where he quickly discovered a talent for the clarinet. Delighted at finding something he was actually good at, he began to pour more and more of his time into the instrument; by the time that he turned 14, he had learned to play both the piano and violin, and had become the first-chair clarinetist in the Ironwood Academy’s chamber orchestra. 

After receiving the news that his son showed a talent for music, Reginald Hawthorne was aghast that something he spawned ran the risk of becoming an artist, a class of human that the elder Hawthorne viewed with a level of disdain he normally reserved for foreigners, women, and people who rode on public transit. In a fifteen-page letter sent to the headmaster of Ironwood, Reginald lambasted the institution for allowing his son to pick up the godless habit of music, proclaiming that his once-great alma mater was weakening the moral fiber of America, undermining it with what he dubbed “Frippery.” 

“You placed thoughts of wanton frivolity into the wretched thing’s head,” wrote Reginald, “and I demand that you beat them out.” 

While the ensuing punishments that Kensington suffered at Ironwood succeeded in beating the hope, joy, and bicuspids out of of him, they did not remove his passion for music. To escape from the increasingly-hostile atmosphere at school, Kensington spent more and more of time in the nearby town of Lake Cudgel. 

Lake Cudgel was first founded in the early 17th century by colonizers who believed that the sparkling waters of their hometown had healing properties. In 1905, Doctor Elijah Ezekiel Hansen decided to capitalize on this belief by opening the Cudgel Resort and Sanitarium, situated immediately off the lake shore. The resort acted as a spa and wellness retreat for New York and New England high society; Doctor Hansen provided guests with large quantities of lake water to bathe in, to drink, to consume via enemas, and, for the most adventurous gentlemen guests, to take via something called “urethral lavage.” 

Doubts began to be cast on Doctor Hansen’s methods in 1929, after a number of guests, including New Jersey senator Chester M. Burkhart, began to develop neurological disorders, cancers, and necrosis in a wide variety of body parts left tastefully unnamed by historical records. This lead to a series of geological surveys of the area and testing of the lake’s waters in 1930. These surveys revealed that the luster of Lake Cudgels water was not caused by any mystical or healing properties, but was rather due to the fact that the town lay on top of a naturally-occurring deposit of asbestos, cadium-rich sphalerite, and thorium ore. Modern geologists sometimes refer to this mineral quirk as “God’s idea of a joke.” 

While Hansen did his best to pivot away from his prior lake water-dependent regimens, and adopted “We Won’t Give You Unmentionable Rot Anymore” as the resort’s new, ill-advised slogan, business dropped sharply in the coming decades; by 1951, the resort, and the surrounding town, had been almost entirely abandoned. 

But by the 1980s, a new subculture was beginning to arise in Lake Cudgel. Teenage runaways from boarding schools and vacation homes throughout upstate New York began to flock to the decaying ruins of Lake Cudgel, seeking momentary relief from their blasé, bourgeois lives. By the time that Kensington Hawthorne made it to Lake Cudgel, a small-but-burgeoning music scene had begun to sprout up. 

It was this scene that enraptured the young Kensington. He fell in love with the anarchic style of punk and the harshness of noise rock. He was enamored with the freedom and lack of canings that his life here offered him. Most of all, he became fascinated with the danger and swagger of his favorite artists. 

In an interview for crime journalist Amanda Lipinski’s book, Bebop and Blood: The Kensington Hawthorne Story, Rob Ellison, one of Hawthorne’s former friends in Lake Cudgel, explained Kensington’s passion.. “Kenny was always yammering on about one artist or another. He wouldn’t shut up about it. He’d be going on and on about some guy in Texas who crapped on the stage, or some band in Japan that drove a bulldozer through the venue wall. It never seemed to be about the music for him. It was always about what line the musicians were willing to cross.” Awestruck by the iconoclasts that filled his ears, Kensington Hawthorne was determined make his own shocking mark on the world of music.

In his pursuit of opportunities to rail against social norms, Kensington got involved in a number of bands. These ranged from the Drive-In Slaughterhouse, a gothabilly quartet, to Quarrycorpse, whose performance of self-proclaimed ‘True Rock Music’ consisted of band members hitting each other with actual rocks. As Kensington continued to ply his craft, however, he took notice of a terrible affliction. His piano riffs were quiet and smooth. His vocals were dulcet and crooning. His violent bludgeoning of his bandmates was, somehow, soft and easygoing. 

While he had no name for his condition, Kensington Hawthorne realized, to his horror, that all of his attempts at playing music were turning into smooth jazz. Today, neurologists recognize him as one of the first known sufferers of PESP: Progressive Euphonic Syncopated Paramusia, commonly referred to as “Kenny G Syndrome.”

While treatments for PESP are in use today, none existed back in the barbaric era that was the late 1980s. And so, unable to perform the shocking fringe music that he so loved, Kensington Hawthorne returned to school. Now incapable of performing music without jazzy improvisation, he was forced to drop out of Ironwood Academy’s chamber orchestra and actually focus on his studies. His inner muse had been slain and his spirit had been broken. In short, he was the perfect Ironwood student. 

The destruction of Kensington’s hopes and dreams also lead to a reconciliation with his father Reginald. Where once the elder Hawthorne saw his wayward son as a dandy, a gadabout, and worst of all an artist, he now saw the makings of a young man who could quash the final embers of curiosity, creativity, and empathy within him, a process that most people refer to as “getting an MBA.” In an unguarded swelling of what one could call paternal pride, Reginald even sent a letter to his son, proclaiming him “not entirely useless.” 

Kensington Hawthorne graduated from Ironwood in May 17th, 1988. While his grades were middling at best and his sole talent had been stripped from him by the uncaring hand of biology, he was nonetheless accepted to Columbia University as a legacy student whose father had just made an incredibly generous donation. 

Upon entering college, Kensington once again found himself struggling. He was unable to keep up academically, and he constantly hovered on the border of academic probation. His problems were compounded by his inability to socialize with his fellow students. Reginald Hawthorne hoped that his son’s education at Columbia would turn him into a leader among men. Unfortunately, Kensington did not have his father’s knack for powerful leadership; that is to say, he lacked the ability to scowl at, bellow at, and hurl things at weaker students until they agreed to do what he wanted. 

Reginald Hawthorne was enraged to hear that his son had once again turned out to be a disappointment. But as Kensington entered his junior year, his father’s rage softened into mere contempt, and subsequently into total indifference. Consequently Reginald’s eighty-thousand-dollar-per-year stipend to Kensington dwindled to a mere forty-thousand dollars, leaving the young Hawthorne in a state that he viewed as abject poverty. 

To supplement his income, Kensington Hawthorne roamed the streets of Manhattan, seeking employment. After an evening spent unsuccessfully searching for work, he stopped off at a bar to drown his sorrows. There, seeking solace at the bottom of a highball glass, Kensington’s ears perked up as he heard a familiar sound. It was the bar’s pianist, dutifully playing a smooth, meandering tune. While most of his fellow patrons ignored the pianist and absent-mindedly slipped cash into his tip jar, Kensington stared at the man, gears turning in his head. Perhaps he had rediscovered his calling.

Overcome with drunken inspiration, Kensington paid his tab and staggered to campus, where he in turn stumbled upon an unoccupied practice room in one of the student dormitories. There, he sat down at the piano and, for the first time in three years began to play. 

Progress was slow on that first night. Intoxication and a lack of practice had made Kensington clumsy, and his attempts at melodic, jazzy licks quickly turned into incomprehensible garbage. But over the course of the upcoming weeks, Hawthorne once again found his musical skill, bolstered by his dedicated practice and neurological inability to play anything that didn’t sound like smooth jazz. 

Soon, Kensington Hawthorne was playing at clubs throughout New York City. People enjoyed his music, or at least were content to have him playing in the background. He was even able to healthily supplement his income. For a time, life was good. 

But soon, Kensington felt the old familiar sting that had haunted him during his teenaged years. He was playing music again, but it wasn’t his music. He didn’t simply want peoples’ money, he wanted their attention. Their adulation. Their shock. If he was to maintain his passion, he needed to find a way to make smooth jazz dangerous. 

At first, Kensington attempted to shock jazz-club listeners by making raunchy lyrical additions to his covers of classic jazz pieces. This plan succeeded, insofar that it horrified his audience. Unfortunately, said audiences tended to express their shock through physical confrontation. The patrons of the Ember Cellar Piano Bar responded to his rendition of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” which now included several sexual comments about the audience’s mothers, by unceremoniously ejecting him from the premises, leaving him scuffed and humiliated on the sidewalk outside. Upon hearing Kensington’s version of “I’ve Got Rhythm” whose lyrics now graphically detailed a romantic tryst between three men and a goat, the staff of the Alley Cat Jazz Club responded by hurling empty liquor bottles at his head. When Kensington attempted to spice up his cover of “Caravan” by repeatedly screaming expletives over his performance, he was descended upon by the customers of the Velvet Rose Music hall and violently bludgeoned with a decorative candelabra. 

Delighted at the offense he engendered in his audience, but lacking the fortitude to endure another beating, Kensington Hawthorne decided that he would need to change his tactics. If bastardizing jazz standards provoked too extreme of a response, then perhaps he could shock people with his presentation of ordinary songs. In a fit of poor judgment, he decided that he would start playing songs in the nude. 

Mercifully for the jazz-club-going audiences of New York, the effect of Kensington’s nudity was muted by the fact that most of his body was concealed by a baby grand piano during the majority of these performances. This phase of Kensington Hawthorne’s career made a minimal impression, save for a number of uncomfortable bar patrons and a series of awkward sweat stains left on piano benches. As a final nail in the naked-smooth-jazz coffin, the majority of bar proprietors in New York refused to let Kensington perform, citing concerns about the city’s health code. 

It was after one of these refusals in 1993 that Kensington stormed out of the Cardiac Syncopation Medical Spa and Music Lounge, fuming as he stalked along the darkened city streets. Unfortunately for him, and for countless others, this was the night that he would come face-to-face with a Hawthorne rite of passage. 

Ever the social Darwinists, every Hawthorne patriarch dating back to Blessed-is-he-who-seizes-your-infants-and-dashes-them-against-the-rocks Hawthorne would surprise their adult sons with a challenge of mental fortitude and physical strength. They would do this by hiring somebody to try and murder the would-be heirs to the Hawthorne bloodline shortly after their twenty-first birthday. Reginald Hawthorne, being no different than his forefathers, paid former heavyweight boxing champion Harry “The Hook” Hardison ten thousand dollars worth of cheap whiskey to try and beat Kensington to death.

Hardison saw Kensington leaving Cardiac Syncopation and, following a cursory attempt at stalking him, descended upon the young musician, ready to pound him into the concrete. Fortunately for Kensington, Harry Hardison was not especially good at concealing his six-and-a-half feet of bulk on an empty city street. Thus, Hawthorne saw the hired goon coming. 

Normally, one would expect a man as physically ungifted as Kensington Hawthorne to do the only sensible thing when faced with a charging juggernaut of muscle and Uncle Hezekiah’s Last Resort Bourbon, namely, to scream like a terrified pug and run away from his assailant. However, Kensington, having just been denied a performance opportunity for the fifteenth time in two weeks, was already consumed by a fit of pique. As such, he instead decided to scream like an enraged pug and run towards the charging Hardison. 

Bystanders note that Hardison, likely confused by the fact that his quarry wasn’t succumbing to animal terror, paused his assault, leaving Kensington Hawthorne with the split-second opportunity he needed to run, head first, into his attacker’s imposing bulk. 

The collision between Hawthorne and Hardison had all the force and power of a spitball fired at a tank, and sent Hawthorne sprawling onto the sidewalk. It was, however, just enough to knock the heavily-intoxicated Hardison off of his balance, sending him teetering backwards to collapse onto the pavement like a demolished building. Upon hitting the ground, Hardison struck his head against the unforgiving sidewalk. The impact burst a blood vessel in his brain, killing him within minutes. 

And, like that, it was seemingly finished. Harry “The Hook” was dead, the police wrote off Kensington’s actions as a clear-cut case of self-defense, and Reginald Hawthorne received word the next day that his son may have had some form of value after all. Satisfied with his son’s capacity for violence, Reginald Hawthorne began sending Kensington more funds, to quote, “reward the boy’s moral education.” The story, it seemed was over. 

Unbeknownst to anybody else, however, this first kill had given Kensington Hawthorne a taste of blood. What was worse, he craved more. 

What kind of evil did this incident release? How did the people of New York and New Jersey respond to Kensington’s reign of terror? Why did the Smooth Jazz Killer meet his end in a dinner-theater inferno? We’ll find out on the next episode. 

This has been Liminal Criminals. I’m Sam Putnam. I’ll see you next time, and remember: they’re not right behind you. They don’t need to be. 

[ending theme] 

Liminal Criminals was originally a true crime podcast by Liminal Studios. It was originally researched, written and created by Sam Putnam. It is edited for broadcast and distribution with the generous support of the Chthonic Riviera government and Deeps Self-Preservation League. Up next, I’ll be bringing you the news from with another installment of Studio Community Worldwide Radio. 

Also, Krysta, if you’re listening, could you double check with Havel to make absolutely sure we have backup parts for the transmitter now? If this thing goes down again, I don’t want to have to wait a whole week to put out the next broadcast. 


Liminal Criminals is a fictional podcast by SCWR productions. It is written and edited by Sam Putnam. It is cowritten by Krysta Golden. Our theme song is Chthonic Riviera by Cornu Ammonis. 

Folow us on Twitter at “liminal cast,” or like us on Facebook. Rate and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or your podcast platform of choice. Tell a friend about us. Whisper secrets into your pillow; they may be what saves you when the time comes. All links are in the show notes.