Bogus Supplements Made My Son Snap

Timothy Hamlett was a promising, Ivy League track star. Then he started taking 'male enhancement' pills—and things went terribly wrong.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

To celebrate her son’s 21st birthday on Feb. 1, Katherine Hamlett went to a high school track meet in the Armory building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She didn’t really care who placed or won. What mattered was she was in the same spot on the same day where her son Timothy, a University of Pennsylvania track star, won his race a year ago in record time.

Today, Timothy Hamlett is missing. Nobody knows if he’s alive, hurt or worse.

Hamlett’s parents believe the young man’s mental state fell into a tailspin because of an addiction to energy supplements, many of which include male enhancement pills.

“Our son did not experience any issues until he started taking these supplements,” Katherine Hamlett said. “And people look at us cross-eyed and I know there’s a lot of skepticism. But if you look at the history he goes all the way through school—no issues whatsoever and then he starts taking these supplements and everything in his life, literally everything in his life changes.”

Before he vanished, Hamlett was a promising junior majoring in philosophy at University of Pennsylvania and thriving as a lightning-footed sprinter “with his whole life in front of him.”

With few leads, Timothy Hamlett’s parents are praying for a miracle. “No matter how this journey ends—it may be that our son is no longer with us or through God’s grace, his life has been preserved. That’s what we’re hoping for,” his mother told The Daily Beast.

Dressed in an Adidas track jacket, True Religion jeans, and sneakers, Hamlett left his house at around 6:30 p.m. on a leafy block in Teaneck, New Jersey, a day after Christmas. He told his parents that he was off to visit a friend nearby. Instead, he planned on visiting another friend across Hudson River in Manhattan. Hamlett headed over the George Washington Bridge on a jitney. He hasn’t been seen since entering Manhattan.

The Teaneck Police say the young man likely entered a park near West 174th Street. On Dec. 29, both Hamlett’s wallet and his iPhone turned up when some local kids playing nearby the park at the time came clean.

As they wait for closure, Archibald and Katherine Hamlett began combing through their son’s life. A key moment that quickly emerged: September 2013, when Timothy Hamlett began buying all kinds of supplements off Amazon and eBay. A laundry list of them, provided by Katherine Hamlett, include: Pygeum, Cordyceps, and Ginseng Panax. But he was also taking Vitalikor Male Enhancement, Big Jim, Twins Male Enhancement Huge Penis Enlargement (a kind of homeopathic Viagra), whose black bottle with yellow cartoonish husky man and pair of small, round friends comes with the tagline vowing to “really turn a boy into a man.”

Supplements are already under scrutiny. This month New York state’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman unveiled a damning scientific study exposing supplements sold at big box stores like Target and Walmart are mislabeled and chock full of questionable ingredients. “The old adage ‘buyer beware’ maybe be especially true for consumers of herbal supplements.”

These pill companies would be better off printing question marks on their label rather than hawk fiction, experts told The Daily Beast. “What you’re taking is anybody’s guess,” Paul Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said. “You’re assuming what’s on the labels is in the bottles.”

Offit said some of Hamlett’s supplements were stimulants. When it comes to penis enlargement the placebo effect is at play. “I think it’s fair to say if you’re buying a product that says ‘Penis Enlargement’ that you’re buying into a certain myth,” Offit added.

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Could taking these pills make someone do something seemingly crazy—like, say, disappear? Edgar Miller, deputy director of Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, told The Daily Beast that it can’t be counted out.

“Do a fistful of herbs and spices and supplements cause a psychosis? I don’t know these particular supplements,” he said. “It sounded like some of them might be hormonally active and then the question is can hormones cause problems like that? Possibly.”

Miller stresses that the bigger concerns in taking these kinds of pills are liver and kidney failure.

Before Timothy Hamlett got hooked on the pills, he was known to have an intoxicating personality. “His social skills are top-notch,” Katherine Hamlett, a 50-year-old attorney, said. “He had an edge about him and a wit and a style… There was no one that he could not engage and make them feel comfortable in their space. I don’t care what demographic, ethnicity or race.”

Then, after popping supplements for a year, the wisecracking Hamlett disconnected. “Something wasn’t right,” his mother said. “Now we’re looking at a person who is isolated. This was a supplement-induced psychosis.”

Initially, Timothy Hamlett was supplement-free. But that changed, his father said, when he ran a particularly competitive indoor championship track meet. During this 2013 race Timothy Hamlett took a spill and was spiked by a rogue Harvard College runner, his parents said.

“Someone from Harvard spiked him,” his mother added. “I can remember him distinctly calling me saying ‘I got injured. They’re taking care of me. But I got spiked.’”

The injury left a six-inch gash on his left leg between Hamlett’s knee and thigh. Archibald Hamlett is convinced his son was “stepped on twice” at full speed.

The injury was a significant moment for Timothy Hamlett. Soon after Hamlett was on supplements like cordyceps, which is a fungus extracted from caterpillars in elevated parts of China. His father asked his son why he was taking it and the son replied, “It’s not banned.”

Hamlett recovered from the spike incident and ran the outdoor season that year but the rigors of the racing took a toll. “After taking the cordyceps my son starting believing in these supplements and what he was doing,” said Archibald Hamlett, a 55-year-old retired Port Authority cop. At first the diet seemed to be working. “He had gone from high school running a two-minute 800-meter to almost three years of training in less than a year,” the elder Hamlett added.

“Some of the ones where it’s dietary or male enhancement—someone of his age wouldn’t need that,” the father said. “But if you look at the situation where you need stamina and strength for long distances—these things give you some get-up-and-go or more fight and determination.”

The pep delivered by supplements were one thing. But so was the expectations of the coach. Under the attention, Hamlett switched from the 400 meter race the to 800 meter. “He looked at Timothy as a prodigy and was expecting a lot out of him. And he was expecting a lot out of himself. That’s why he changed from the 400 to the 800. That’s a lot of pressure.”

When Timothy Hamlett began missing practice and his grades dipped his father says he tried to intervene to get him to kick the pills. “I tried to get him a therapist and they performed a diagnosis,” Archibald said.

The family ordered an MRI to determine if Timothy Hamlett had a potential brain cyst, but the results were inconclusive.

And despite the therapist and help his parents supplied their son, he mostly shrugged it off.

All the while, Hamlett’s emotional imbalance ranged from hostile to aimless. “He was talking to a friend he’s known since freshman year and asking him ‘What’s your name? What’s your major?’” his mother recalled. “Then later in the conversation he asks again, ‘What’s your major?’”

Another instance involved Timothy Hamlett in almost a manic state and showcasing schizophrenic symptoms. “He’s not engaging with his roommates. And he’s staying in the bathroom for long amounts of time. And talking to himself.”

Ultimately they yanked their son out of the Ivy League institution to come home and get help.

Once home, Timothy Hamlett was dealing with past lapses. He was defending against criminal mischief and aggravated assault charges after getting nabbed back in May for allegedly riding his bicycle and chucking bricks at multiple homes and several parked cars around his Teaneck neighborhood. “There was a backpack he was wearing on the night he was stopped and it had a residue that when we sent it out to the state lab came back positive,” Teaneck Police Detective Lt. Andrew McGurr told The Daily Beast.

Property damage alone was serious but the brick-tossing spree also struck a woman who was “laying on her couch” in her house and was injured from the shards of shattered glass or a broken piece of mortar. “She was hit in the face causing a laceration right above the eye,” McGurr said.

Hamlett’s attorney, Jason Foy, said he was confident that his client would beat the rap. “He matched a description and they say he had brick residue in his book bag,” Foy told The Daily Beast. “But they didn’t find Timothy with a brick and no one said ‘Oh, that’s the guy who threw the thing in the window.’”

“They’re going to have a tough time proving the case—much less worry about jail,” Foy added.

Asked whether the impending charges, which were awaiting a grand jury hearing, could have caused Hamlett to abscond, his lawyer said impossible. “This is not the case you run from.”