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3 Australians die, 1 left critically ill after eating possibly poisonous mushrooms served by relative's ex-wife: 'It could be very innocent, but again we just don’t know'
Composite screenshot of 7News Australia (Top left: Erin Patterson | Bottom left: Heather and Ian Wilkinson | Top right: Don and Gail Patterson)

3 Australians die, 1 left critically ill after eating possibly poisonous mushrooms served by relative's ex-wife: 'It could be very innocent, but again we just don’t know'

Three people in Australia are dead, one man is clinging to life, and a woman is under investigation after she reportedly served the others a meal of poisonous mushrooms but never took ill herself.

On July 29, 48-year-old Erin Patterson hosted a luncheon for several former in-laws at her home in Leongatha, a small town in the Australian state of Victoria. Patterson, either the former or estranged wife of a man named Simon Patterson, invited over Simon's parents, Gail and Don Patterson, his aunt Heather Wilkinson, and her husband, Ian Wilkinson.

By midnight that night, Gail and Don Patterson, both 70, had fallen severely ill with what appeared to be food poisoning and went to the hospital, where they died days later. The Wilkinsons also became ill and went to the hospital. Heather Wilkinson, 66, died as well. Her husband, a 68-year-old Baptist pastor who needs a liver transplant, remains on life support and is listed in critical condition.

As a precaution, hostess Erin Patterson later took herself and her two children, whom she shares with ex-husband Simon, to the hospital as well, but none of them ever manifested similar symptoms, and they were soon released. Simon Patterson did not attend the luncheon.

An investigation into the incident revealed that Erin Patterson may have served a meal of death cap mushrooms that fateful day. According to the New York Post, which cited the CDC, death cap mushrooms, whether raw or cooked, are so toxic that ingesting just one can be fatal.

Police investigating deadly mushroom meal in Leongatha | 7NEWSyoutu.be

Now Victoria police are trying to determine whether the meal was a tragic mistake or an attempt to cause harm. Dean Thomas, a detective inspector for the homicide squad of the Victoria Police, called the case "very, very complex." "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," he said.

Thomas confirmed in a press conference that Erin Patterson is under investigation. "She hasn’t presented with any symptoms," he noted, "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." Police have already interviewed Erin Patterson at least once and have conducted a search of her property.

On Monday, Ms. Patterson told reporters that she is "devastated" at the loss of her former in-laws, whom she loved like her own family. "I didn’t do anything," she insisted. "I loved them, and I’m devastated that they’re gone."

"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 continued through tears. "I loved them and I can’t believe this has happened, and I’m so sorry that they have lost their lives."

Patterson declined to clarify how she acquired the mushrooms or how she prepared them. It is believed that her children ate a separate meal that day. The children have been placed into state care for now, the New York Post reported. Police indicated that no arrests were expected in the case anytime soon.

The victims' family issued a statement about their lost loved ones. "Their love, steadfast faith, and selfless service have left an indelible mark on our families, the Korumburra Baptist Church, the local community, and indeed, people around the globe," said the statement originally published in the Sentinel Times.

Victoria Health has also issued a warning to the public not to eat any mushrooms they may have found in the wild. "If you haven't purchased them from a supermarket, perhaps stay clear of them," Detective Thomas reiterated.

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