Crooked City

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Martin Preib is a Chicago writer and cop. His first book, The Wagon and Other Stories from the City, was published by the University of Chicago Press. His essays have been published in Playboy, Virginia Quarterly Review (winner of the 2005 Staige D. Blackford Award for Nonfiction), New City, and Tin House.

In 2006, he began investigating wrongful conviction cases in Chicago and determined that many of these exonerations were false. His work led to undermining the most influential wrongful conviction case in the state’s history, chronicled in his second book Crooked City. In 2016, he was elected Second Vice President of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police.


In this, his second book about a Chicago murder case in which an offender walked out of death row, award-winning writer and police officer Martin Preib documents his journey from doubt to certainty that the offender in this case should not have been released from prison.

Preib's earlier book, Crooked City, undermined the central so-called "wrongful conviction" case that was seminal in generating an industry in Illinois aimed at overturning convictions. Now Preib moves beyond that case to the Madison Hobley arson, meticulously unraveling, strand by strand, the convoluted tapestry of Chicago's corruption that led to a 2003 pardon of Hobley by Illinois Governor George Ryan, allowing Hobley to walk free from the 1987 arson on Chicago's South Side that left seven people dead, including his own wife and child.

Preib's ruminations run deep and wide, taking full account of the complex legal and political forces behind the Hobley exoneration. Preib's account of Hobley's crime, conviction, and exoneration leads him through painful self-discovery to startling revelations as he plumbs the depths of the city's corruption and confronts the forces that are trying to silence him.

Crooked city

In this second collection of connected essays, Chicago cop Martin Preib takes on seemingly unrelated murder cases, all dating from one year, 1982, including some in which offenders were released as part of the wrongful conviction movement. 

This book shatters reader assumptions—about the workings of justice, the objectivity of the media, and the role of the police in the city of Chicago, even calling into question allegations of police torture in the notorious cases against Jon Burge.

Told in the gripping tension of a crime novel, Preib strives for the highest language as he wanders these brutal, controversial killings.


Martin Preib is an officer in the Chicago Police Department—a beat cop whose first assignment as a rookie policeman was working on the wagon that picks up the dead. Inspired by Preib’s daily life on the job, The Wagon and Other Stories from the City chronicles the outer and inner lives of both a Chicago cop and the city itself.

The book follows Preib as he transports body bags, forges an unlikely connection with his female partner, trains a younger officer, and finds himself among people long forgotten—or rendered invisible—by the rest of society. Preib recounts how he navigates the tenuous labyrinths of race and class in the urban metropolis, such as a domestic disturbance call involving a gang member and his abused girlfriend or a run-in with a group of drunk yuppies. As he encounters the real and imagined geographies of Chicago, the city reveals itself to be not just a backdrop, but a central force in his narrative of life and death. Preib’s accounts, all told in his breathtaking prose, come alive in ways that readers will long remember.