Liminal Criminals: A Fake Crime Podcast

Tales of the Smooth Jazz Killer, Part 2

March 17, 2023 SCWR Productions Season 2 Episode 2
Tales of the Smooth Jazz Killer, Part 2
Liminal Criminals: A Fake Crime Podcast
More Info
Liminal Criminals: A Fake Crime Podcast
Tales of the Smooth Jazz Killer, Part 2
Mar 17, 2023 Season 2 Episode 2
SCWR Productions

 On today's  episode of Liminal Criminals, we conclude our tale of Kensington Hawthorne, the Smooth Jazz Killer. How did this seemingly-harmless musician's brush with violence lead to a downward spiral into paranoia, murder, and the destruction of a perfectly serviceable piano? Find out here, only on Liminal Criminals.

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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 today's  episode of Liminal Criminals, we conclude our tale of Kensington Hawthorne, the Smooth Jazz Killer. How did this seemingly-harmless musician's brush with violence lead to a downward spiral into paranoia, murder, and the destruction of a perfectly serviceable piano? Find out here, only on Liminal Criminals.

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.  

Previously on Liminal Criminals: Kensington Hawthorne, the scion of arms magnate Reginald Hawthorne, was sent away to Ironwood Academy, his ancestral boarding school. There he quickly developed a passion for music. Against his father’s wishes, he continued to pursue this calling, eventually falling in with a burgeoning countercultural scene in the long-abandoned resort town of Lake Cudgel. There, he realized his ambition to create performances that would shock the world, an ambition that was snatched from him by a neurological disorder that forced him to play only smooth jazz. Crestfallen, he abandoned his dream and went on to major in business at Columbia.

Kensington rediscovered his passion during his junior year of college when he took up jazz piano as a way to supplement his slashed parental allowance. While this new career supported him throughout the rest of his time at Columbia and the rest of his early twenties, his inability to shock audiences with smooth jazz performances drove him deeper into bitter rage. This culminated in him fatally striking back against a would-be hitman his father hired as part of a Hawthorne right of passage. 

In the wake of this violence, Kensington knew that his newest, truest calling would lie not in music, but in murder. 

How did the Smooth Jazz Killer terrorize New York during the early 1990s? More importantly, how did his murderous tenure end? We’ll find out on today’s episode. 

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

[Intro theme]

We have little information about Kensington Hawthorne’s state of mind between his first kill in self-defense and his first murder. The soon-to-be serial killer became reclusive during this time, and kept no legible records of his thoughts. The few times he interacted with people, he seemed distant and largely detached from his surroundings. 

“I dropped a package off for Kensington one time,” reported courier Jessie Nolan, “He just kept staring straight ahead, not seeming to take anything in. I had to shove the box into his hands and yell at him to hold on to it.” 

Kensington’s performances were just as strange as the rest of his behavior during this time. While his piano playing remained as pleasant and smooth as ever, he had taken to giggling as he played, as though laughing at a joke only he could hear. This continued for several weeks, until he finished a set at the 3rd Street Piano Bar by breaking into full-fledged laughter, standing up, and announcing to the audience “I know what I must do,” before walking off stage. 

His confused audience couldn’t know that the man who had provided their ambient music for the night was about to cut a bloody swathe through New York history. 

The first known victim of Kensington Hawthorne’s reign of terror was Dino Balducci, the owner of the Cardiac Syncopation Medical Spa and Music Lounge. A mere three months after Balducci initially denied Hawthorne a gig at his establishment, due to the musician’s insistence that he play in the nude, Balducci’s body was found in his Brooklyn townhome. Coroners reported that he had been strangled with a thin, sturdy garrote that left abrasions around his larynx. Police never found or identified the murder weapon. But seriously, dear listener, it was definitely piano wire, right? Had to be. Back me up on this. 

After Balducci was Alexis DuMaine, an experimental pianist and Juliard dropout. According to eyewitnesses, DuMaine likely attracted Hawthorne’s ire on November 2nd, 1993, the very evening of his death. DuMaine was celebrating a successful recital by spending a long evening at the Ember Cellar piano bar. There he was, knocking back cocktails and drunkenly heckling Hawthorne’s performance, which consisted entirely of ill-advised smooth-jazz Motorhead covers. At one AM, Hawthorne finished his performance with an unsolicited encore, and DuMaine, now lacking a target, paid his tab and began his long stagger back home. Unbeknownst to him, Hawthorne, having hastily packed up and sprinted out of the bar, was trailing a block behind him. 

According to police reports, Hawthorne likely slipped into DuMaine’s unlocked apartment, quickly subdued the intoxicated musician, dragged him over to his upright piano and began slamming his head into the keys, staining the ebony and ivory red with blood. The din of this confrontation was obscured, not by walls or distance, but by the fact that DuMaine specialized in an avant-garde style of music he called “Primal Pugilistic Tone Cluster,” better known as “Slamming his fist onto the keys and screaming.” These sounds were normal for him. Should any of his neighbors realized that he was actually being violently murdered, they may very well have been happy to let it happen. 

The bodies continued to pile up. Rather than targeting marginalized members of society, or random civilians, Kensington Hawthorne exclusively targeted figures in, or tangential to, the New York music scene. Fear gripped conservatories and performance venues in the region. Guitarists worried that they would be garroted with their own strings. Oboists feared that they would be gutted with their own reed knives. Violists felt reasonably safe, knowing that nobody pays attention to the violas anyway. 

When Manhattan music critic Carey Townsend was found burned alive on a pyre made of his own manuscripts, the NYPD began to suspect a pattern. When recording magnate Neil Lauren was thrown out of the window of his penthouse onto the street below, they, the press, and the public alike knew that this was the work of a serial murderer. In their early coverage of Kensington Hawthorne’s exploits, the New York press struggled to find a name for this unknown killer, experimenting with monikers like “The Piano Prowler,” “The Musical Marauder,” and “That Guy What Kills People in the Music Business.” 

Apparently bolstered by the attention and presumably determined to get a more interesting nickname for himself, Kensington Hawthorne began to strike with greater frequency. Estimates place Hawthorne’s body count during 1994 alone as being between 12 to 15 murders. Those who knew Kensington stated that he became more erratic during this time, yo-yoing between bouts of strange contentment and wild paranoia. Notably, he responded to a pizza delivery by detaining the delivery driver at knifepoint, demanding to know who sent him. Convinced that the police, the recording industry, and the busker outside his apartment were hot on his trail, Kensington staged a false-flag threat against himself. 

In January of 1995, Kensington took the body of his most recent victim, jazz clarinetist Leonard Croft, gutted him, and took said guts back to his apartment. There, he festooned his home with Croft’s organs and wrote the words “You’re next” on the wall in blood. After this, he washed himself off, left to dispose of his bloodstained clothing, and returned back home, where he pretended to walk in on this grizzly scene for the first time. Retrospectives on the Kensington Hawthorne case note several flaws in this plan. First, making threats against potential victims was not part of the Smooth Jazz Killer’s MO. Second, strands of Hawthorne’s hair were found on the victim’s entrails. Third, upon making this quote-unquote “Discovery” in his apartment, Kensington Hawthorne responded by calmly walking out into the hallway, at which point he flatly proclaimed “Oh my god. What is happening. This has never happened to me before,” before striding back into his apartment and dialing 911. When the police arrived Kensington became agitated, giving a long and rambling statement about how “the streets would run red with the blood of musicians,” and “the Smooth Jazz Killer is coming for us all.” Crime historian Amanda Lipinski notes that this is the first known usage of the phrase “Smooth Jazz Killer” as a moniker. Evidently, Hawthorne had decided to try and guide how the press would refer to him. 

Perceptive listeners may have a number of questions about Kensington Hawthorne at this point, such as “why didn’t the cops catch this guy,” “why did nobody suggest that Kensington was behind this,” and “Seriously, why the f[bleep] didn’t the cops catch this guy.” 

A handful of Kensington’s colleagues and neighbors did attempt to report him to the police, citing his increasing paranoia, his love of the spotlight, and his tendency to come back home at odd hours, spattered in blood. These efforts went in vain. Despite the clumsiness of Kensington Hawthorne’s murders, his suspicious behavior, and the fact that literally all of the evidence suggested that he was the one committing these killings, the police never caught him. Indeed, the New York Police Department never even considered the man a suspect; as a man with no criminal record, as the son of a generous donor to the NYPD, and as an eccentric-but-otherwise-unassuming artist who resembled a hundred-thirty pounds of wet tissue paper, Hawthorne was considered to be quote “too boring, too rich, and too much of a candyass” to be fingered as a person of interest in the case. 

Kensington’s ability to escape scot-free was doubtlessly a source of relief for him. However, the fact that nobody was even considering him as a potential suspect appeared to get under his skin. People close to Kensington noted that, as the Smooth Jazz Killer investigation continued, he became increasingly unhinged. In Bebop and Blood, crime historian Amanda Lipinski cites several anecdotes from members of Hawthorne’s audience; according to one listener, Kensington stopped his performance mid-song to go on an extended rant about how geniuses are never recognized in their time. On another occasion, Kensington opened his act by reading off a list of every every murder in New York City and New Jersey committed in the past six months and whispering, “It could be you next,” into his microphone. Multiple eyewitnesses claim that Kensington would often refuse to play at all during his gigs, instead going into graphic detail about how he could exsanguinate everyone in the room without getting caught, then hurled his mic stand into the audience and stomped off the stage.

Kensington needed more than the thrill of violence in his life. He needed attention. And he had just the plan to get it. 

Throughout the latter half of 1995, Kensington Hawthorne worked on a project he called “The Magnum Opus Experience,” which he claimed would be a multi-media performance that would change his audience’s lives forever. After struggling to find a venue that would be willing to host the Experience, Kensington managed to book a gig at The Mezzo Dinner Theater. It satisfied all of his needs: it was reasonably large, he hadn’t yet burned any bridges with the theater’s owner Trevor Carson, and, even better, Mister Carson was willing to follow any dubiously-legal instructions that Kensington gave him in exchange for a hefty bribe. 

The Magnum Opus Experience attracted a small, but significant amount of buzz from jazz aficionados in New York, who by this point viewed Kensington Hawthorne’s performance with the same morbid curiosity one might have towards a train wreck or public execution. Questions about the nature of the performance began to fly among the scene. These went tantalizingly unanswered. Kensington refused to provide details about the endeavor to the press, saying instead that the performance would speak for itself. As the day of the Magnum Opus Experience drew ever-nearer, Hawthorne began to release a limited advertising run for it. This marketing campaign gave some hints as to the nature of the concert, with taglines like “The Artistic Experience of Your Life,” “I’m Going To Murder You,” “A Night That Will Never Be Forgotten,” and “This Is Not A Joke, I am Literally Going to Murder Everyone In The Audience, I Am Going To Murder Them With Fire.” These hints, however, only further deepened the mystery of Kensington Hawthorne’s latest venture. What could possibly happen at the Magnum Opus Experience? 

After weeks of feverish waiting, December 8th, the night of Kensington Hawthorne’s concert, finally rolled around. The Mezzo’s doors opened, and the curious audience filed in. The lights lowered. The Mezzo’s doors closed, and Trevor Carson surreptitiously locked them. The stage lights went up, and Kensington Hawthorne walked out to uproarious, but largely sarcastic, applause. After the ironic cheers from the audience died down, Kensington sat down at his piano and began his performance. 

You could say that he really killed. You could even say that he really burned the house down. One might even go so far to say that Kensington really rigged his piano with a flamethrower and began blasting gouts of fire at the audience, engulfing them in a petrochemical inferno that claimed the lives of over two dozen innocent people. 

As the first concertgoer went up in flames, the audience broke out into a panicked rush towards the exit. As they pounded at the theater’s unyielding doors, their screams of fear and agony clashed with Hawthorne’s berserk screams and maniacal laughter, backed by the constant whooshing of the sadistic musician’s Steinway-mounted flamethrower. As the crush of people flailed against the door, the floorboards and walls of the Mezzo Dinner Theater ignited, engulfing the entire building in flames. Satisfied with the carnage he had wreaked, Kensington Hawthorne ran backstage, hoping to duck out a fire escape and flee into the night. 

It was here that a vital mistake in Kensington’s machinations became evident. 

When being interrogated by the NYPD in the following weeks, Mezzo’s proprietor Trevor Carson admitted that Kensington Hawthorne had given him a sum of fifty thousand dollars, promising another payment if Carson made sure that nobody could get in or out of the theater during the performance. Unbeknownst to Hawthorne, Carson interpreted these instructions literally, and not only locked the main entrances to the building, but also barred the rear entrances and fire escapes. While the surviving members of the audience were eventually able to smash through the front doors and fire exits of the theater, Kensington, alone and lacking in anything resembling upper or lower body strength, was unable to break out of the now-burning building. What was worse, Carson recently had the backstage area treated with Devil’s Mistake brand floor wax. In order to provide its shine and slipping-hazard qualities, said wax contained lawsuit-inducingly extreme levels of benzene, toluene and something called “Ultra-Turbo Kerosene.” 

When the fire department finally managed to douse the blaze and comb the Mezzo Dinner Theater for survivors, they found Kensington Hawthorne’s remains backstage. Fire Inspector Dan Greeley stated that Hawthorne had, quote, “Partially melted into the emergency exit.” 

At long last, the Smooth Jazz Killer’s reign of terror had come to an end. 

What has happened since then? 

After being scraped off of the fire exit of the Mezzo Dinner Theater, Kensington Hawthorne was buried at the Hawthorne family plot in upstate New York. While the decision to bury him at all was met with shock and anger from Manhattan’s chattering classes, Reginald Hawthorne responded by proclaiming that anyone with such little regard for the inconvenience of human life was a Hawthorne through and through, and that at this point, cremating his son seemed redundant. 

Reginald, for his part, continued to terrorize his family, colleagues, and domestic servants alike for nearly two decades. He died in 2014, at the age of 100, when he decided to end his life by getting into a fistfight with his personal white whale; the Eighth Avenue Express, better known as “The A Train.” 

Mezzo Dinner Theater proprietor Trevor Carson was sentenced to 25 years in prison for criminal negligence, being an accessory to murder, and conspiracy to hide weaponry in a piano. He was released in 2021. Within a week, his corpse was found, dismembered and heavily burned, in front of the former site of the Mezzo Dinner Theater, which is unfortunately, now known as the St. Aloysius Gonzaga Academy, an elite kindergarten commonly attended by children of Manhattan financial executives. 

The Lake Cudgel music scene died out in the early 2000s. The town is currently home to a thorium refinery run by Pleasance Chemical. 

With that, the tale of the Smooth Jazz Killer is done. While Kensington Hawthorne may be dead, however, the legacy and trauma left by his violence shall live on forever. And thus, dear listeners, I would like to end this episode by reminding you all, that every musician harbors constant thoughts of terrible violence, and can never be trusted. 

This has been Liminal Criminals. I’m Sam Putnam. I’ll see you next time, and remember: they sing, and the world dances. 

[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 please come back to the studio? I’ve had three people drop by today saying that you’re supposed to duel them to the death at high noon today. 


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. 

Follow 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 your friends about us. Reflect on the dopamine rush you get when you open a can of sardines. Or is that just a me thing? All links are in the show notes.