In 1927 Byers injured his arm falling from a railway sleeping berth. For the persistent pain a doctor suggested he take Radithor, a patent medicine manufactured by William J. A. Bailey.
Bailey was a Harvard University dropout who falsely claimed to be a doctor of medicine and had become rich from the sale of Radithor, a solution of radium in water which he claimed stimulated the endocrine system. He offered physicians a 1/6 kickback on each dose prescribed.
Byers began taking several doses of Radithor per day, believing it gave him a “toned-up feeling”, but stopped in October 1930 (after taking some 1400 doses) when that effect faded. He lost weight and had headaches, and his teeth began to fall out.
In 1931 the Federal Trade Commission asked him to testify about his experience, but he was too sick to travel so the commission sent a lawyer to take his statement at his home; the lawyer reported that Byers’s “whole upper jaw, excepting two front teeth, and most of his lower jaw had been removed”, and that “All the remaining bone tissue of his body was disintegrating, and holes were actually forming in his skull.”