An Australian woman, suspected of poisoning her former in-laws and others with deadly mushrooms, has been charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder.
Erin Patterson, 49, was arrested on Thursday morning and has now been charged with three counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder - with some charges relating to separate incidents dating back to 2021.
On 29 July this year, Ms Patterson served up a beef wellington dish that included mushrooms for a family gathering in the rural town of Leongatha, Victoria.
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.
Simon Patterson had also been invited to the meal, but could not attend, while their two children skipped the meal to go and see a movie.
The two elderly couples fell violently ill that night and were taken to local hospitals before being transferred to a hospital in Melbourne.
Gail and her sister Heather died on 4 August, while Don died the next day. Ian, a pastor from the local Baptist church in Korumburra, was recently released from hospital after weeks of extensive treatment.
Ms Patterson maintains she is innocent. She has said she did not intentionally poison her guests at the family lunch.
Victoria state police said they were searching the woman’s house with the help of technology detector dogs – trained to sniff out tiny electronic devices such as USBs and SIM cards, which are easy to hide.
The murder charges and two of the attempted murder charges relate to the incident in July this year, but the further three attempted murder charges relate to three separate incidents in Victoria between 2021 and 2022.
Ms Patterson has said in interviews that she is unfairly being painted as an “evil witch”.
ABC reported that Erin Patterson had written in a statement that she cooked a beef wellington steak dish for the lunch using mushrooms bought from a major supermarket chain and dried mushrooms from an Asian grocery store.
She wrote that she also ate the meal and later suffered stomach pains and diarrhoea.
Yet she reportedly could not remember exactly where she had bought them, according to ABC.
While toxicology reports have not conclusively proved what the three relatives died from, police have said the symptoms are consistent with death cap mushrooms.
The toxins are resistant to heat, so cooking does not reduce their deadly effects, and just half of one mushroom contains enough poison to kill a human being, according to experts.
“Over the last three months, this investigation has been subjected to incredibly intense levels of public scrutiny and curiosity,” Detective Inspector Dean Thomas, of the Victoria Police homicide squad said.
“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 added: “In smaller communities such as Leongatha and Korumburra, a tragedy such as this can reverberate for years to come.
“Today’s charges are just the next step in what has been an incredibly complex, methodical and thorough investigation by homicide squad detectives.”
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