An Australian woman is under investigation after serving her former in-laws a lunch laced with poisonous mushrooms, killing three and putting another in critical condition.
The incident occurred on July 29 at the home of Erin Patterson, 48, in Victoria, Australia, where she prepared a beef wellington, allegedly containing poisonous mushrooms, for her former in-laws Gail and Don Patterson, along with Gail’s sister Heather Wilkinson and her husband Ian.
All four guests fell ill within hours with what they initially believed was food poisoning. A few days later Heather, 66, Gail, 70, and Don, 70, had died. Ian, 68, is in critical condition in a Melbourne hospital and fighting for his life as he awaits a liver transplant.
Authorities said that the victims displayed symptoms consistent with consuming death cap mushrooms - aptly named as they are considered the world's deadliest mushrooms.
They contain a toxin called amanitin which causes liver and kidney failure and less than half a cap is enough to kill a person. Death caps are responsible for about 90% of mushroom deaths and nearly 30% of people who consume a death cap will not survive.
Erin did not appear to display any symptoms after the meal, however, she claimed that she was hospitalized on July 31st and given a saline drip along with medication to protect against liver damage.
“She hasn’t presented with any symptoms, but we have to keep an open mind in relation to this, that it could be very innocent, but again we just don’t know at this point,” said Dean Thomas, the Victoria Police detective inspector for the homicide squad.
“It’s a very, very complex matter. We will be working closely with medical experts, with toxicologists, and a whole range of experts throughout the course of this investigation in the hope that we can understand exactly what has gone on and provide some answers to family,” Thomas said.
Mushroom murder mystery
There have been conflicting reports about whether Erin's two children were present at the meal and whether they ingested the toxic mushrooms.
Some accounts have stated that both children were there but ate a separate dish, while others stated that the children were at the movies at the time of the meal but ate leftovers later on. The children have been taken into state care as a precaution, the BBC reported.
Erin has steadfastly maintained her innocence.
“Gail was like the mum I didn’t have because my mum passed away four years ago and Gail had never been anything but good and kind to me. Ian and Heather were some of the best people I’d ever met. They never did anything wrong to me," she said in an interview outside her home.
“I’m so devastated about what’s happened and the loss to the community and to the families and to my own children - they’ve lost their grandmother," she insisted tearfully. “I loved them and I can’t believe this has happened, and I’m so sorry that they have lost their lives.”
“I didn’t do anything; I loved them. I just can’t fathom what has happened"- Erin Patterson
Although Erin has not been charged with any crime, she is still the lead suspect in the case, Thomas confirmed at a Melbourne press conference.
“Yes she is," he said. " And she is because she cooked those meals.”
Initially, Erin Patterson refused to answer questions regarding the origin of the mushrooms, however, she later gave a statement to police claiming the mushrooms had been purchased from an Asian grocery store three months prior to the lethal lunch.
She further elaborated that the mushrooms used in the beef wellington dish were a mixture of button mushrooms from the supermarket and dried mushrooms from the Asian grocery.
"I now very much regret not answering some questions following my lawyer's advice, given the nightmare that this process has become," she said, in her statement to the police. "I am now wanting to clear up the record because I have become extremely stressed and overwhelmed by the deaths of my loved ones."
In her statement, Erin also admitted that she had lied to police regarding a food dehydrator that she threw away the day after the meal.
She said she had panicked and worried she might lose custody of her children after her ex-husband questioned her about whether she had poisoned his parents, leading her to dispose of the dehydrator. The dehydrator has since been seized by police to undergo forensic testing.
Past Patterson poisoning
Erin's ex-husband, Simon Patterson, had his own close call last year with severe gastrointestinal issues that left him in intensive care for weeks.
“Some of you will know that I’ve had some serious medical problems since late May. I collapsed at home, then was in an induced coma for 16 days through which I had 3 emergency operations mainly on my small intestine, plus an additional planned operation,” he shared in a Facebook post in June 2022.
“My family was asked to come and say goodbye to me twice, as I was not expected to live. I was in intensive care for 21 days, after which I was in the general ward for a week, and now I’m at a rehab place since last Saturday."
“I’m pleased to say all the medical work has seemed to have fixed the serious gut problems I had, and I’ve been feeling great for many days.”
A spokeswoman for the family declined to comment on the Facebook post, and Simon did not share the cause of his illness. Simon was supposed to attend the lunch at Erin's home along with his parents but canceled at the last minute.