This week brought the revelation of a letter written in 2013 and sent to San Francisco police, purportedly by John Anglin—who, with brother Clarence and fellow inmate Frank Morris—famously escaped Alcatraz in 1962. That they famously escaped at all is thanks to Popular Mechanics, argues ... Popular Mechanics in a look at how of two of its issues, which were available to Alcatraz inmates, may have played a role in the escape. It's not wild speculation: It reports the FBI and the Federal Bureau of Prisons mentioned the magazine in its files, and Richard Tuggle, the screenwriter behind 1979's Escape From Alcatraz, puts it like so: "They never would have tried to escape [without it].The magazine gave them the final key that they needed to be able to try this crazy thing."
The first issue is November 1960, which profiles a hunter who used scavenged rubber to make goose decoys. The technique he employed is vulcanizing: It forges "water-resistant links between rubber molecules," as Popular Mechanics explains, and all the men needed to begin vulcanizing their own lifeboat was their Alcatraz raincoats (other inmates helped them amass a stash of 50) and rubber cement. The second was the March 1962 issue, which featured the article, "Your Life Preserver—How will it behave if you need it?" The magazine's take: "Popular Mechanics tells its readers how to make things. Always has, since 1902. When that information gets used illegally, there’s not much we can do about it." Read the full story here. (Read more Alcatraz stories.)