Australian police arrest woman over suspected mushroom poisoning deaths

Erin Patterson served up a Beef Wellington dish which included the mushrooms to her former in-laws

Maroosha Muzaffar
Thursday 02 November 2023 07:34 GMT

Related: Melbourne minister says locals are in ‘disbelief’ over mushroom poisoning

An Australian woman has been arrested over the suspected mushroom poisoning deaths of her three former in-laws.

Erin Patterson, 49, had served up a Beef Wellington dish that included mushrooms for a family gathering in the town of Leongatha, Victoria, in July this year.

The lunch hosted by Ms Patterson was supposed to have been a reconciliation with her former husband Simon Patterson’s family for the sake of their children.

The gathering included Simon’s parents Gail and Don Patterson, both aged 70, Gail’s sister Heather Wilkinson, 66, and Heather’s husband Ian Wilkinson, 68.

Gail, her sister Heather, and Don soon became unwell after consuming the meal and had to be hospitalised. They later died.

Mr Wilkinson, a well-respected Baptist pastor, was left fighting for his life after being rushed to hospital in a critical state. He has now been discharged and is recovering.

Simon Patterson had also been invited to the meal, but could not attend.

Ms Patterson was taken into custody on Thursday, but has not been charged. She has denied any wrongdoing in earlier interviews and claimed the deaths were accidental.

Victoria police confirmed Ms Patterson was a suspect in the killings.

Homicide squad inspector Dean Thomas of the Victoria Police said homicide detectives will search Ms Patterson’s home and later interview her.

“Today’s arrest is just the next step in what has been a complex and thorough investigation by Homicide Squad detectives and one that is not yet over,” he told reporters.

Mr Thomas described the case as a tragedy that may “reverberate for years to come”.

“I cannot think of another investigation that has generated this level of media and public interest, not only here in Victoria, but also nationally and internationally,” he said.

In her statement, Ms Patterson claimed she did not know the mushrooms were poisonous when she prepared the meal.

“I am now devastated to think that these mushrooms may have contributed to the illness suffered by my loved ones,” the 49-year-old said earlier. “I really want to repeat that I had absolutely no reason to hurt these people whom I loved.”

Ms Patterson, an experienced wild mushroom forager, reportedly told investigators she used dried fungi purchased from an Asian grocery store and a fresh button variety bought from a local supermarket.

She later admitted lying to investigators about dumping a food dehydrator used to prepare the meal in a local refuse site after the deaths, according to ABC.

In a statement obtained by the Australian public broadcaster, she said she was at the hospital with her children “discussing the food dehydrator” when her former husband asked: “Is that what you used to poison them?”

The 49-year-old mother-of-two has vehemently maintained her innocence, and in an interview earlier claimed she was unfairly being painted as an “evil witch”.

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