Three people have died after eating a suspected ‘poison mushroom’ lunch in Victoria, Australia – and the cook has denied all wrongdoing.
Four guests became ill after attending a lunch at a Leongatha home in Victoria’s eastern Gippsland region on 29 July.
Heather Wilkinson, 66, along with couple Gail Patterson and Don Patterson, both 70, all died just days later.
State police said sisters Heather and Gail from Korumburra passed away on August 4. Don died the following day in the hospital.
Heather’s husband, Ian Wilkinson, 68, a pastor at Korumburra Baptist Church, remains in critical condition at Melbourne’s Austin Hospital.
All four suffered symptoms consistent with consuming death cap mushrooms, a dull green fungus called Amanita phalloides that can cause serious organ failure within 24 to 48 hours.
Erin Patterson, 48, Gail and Don’s daughter-in-law who allegedly cooked the lunch, is being treated as a suspect.
On Saturday, investigators executed a search warrant of the address at Leongatha where the meal was served and interviewed Erin that day.
She has been released pending further inquiries.
Homicide Squad Detective Inspector Dean Thomas told reporters according to the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC): ‘Because the homicide squad is investigating this matter it doesn’t automatically mean that the deaths are suspicious.
‘At this point in time, the deaths are unexplained.’
For Erin, the sense of grief has become paralysing after watching three of the ‘best people I’ve ever known’ – her in-laws and their relatives – die.
‘I can’t believe that this has happened, and I am so sorry that they have lost their lives,’ she told reporters between sobs on Tuesday.
‘I didn’t do anything; I loved them. I just can’t fathom what has happened.’
It is unclear whether Erin ate the meal – or if the mushrooms were even in it – as investigators admit it might take time to cobble the ‘complex’ details together.
‘We will be working closely with medical experts, toxicologists,’ added Thomas, ‘in the hope we can understand exactly what has gone on and provide some answers to the family.’
Erin’s two children are said to have been at the lunch but were given a different meal – they have been taken into state care as a precaution, child services say.
On Sunday, the families of those who died released a statement paying tribute to the ‘cherished individuals’.
‘They were parents, grandparents, siblings, children and pillars of faith within our community,’ they said.
In the Gippsland community, mushroom foraging is common. But state officials urge against it, with two potentially deadly species of mushrooms growing wildly in metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria.
‘It is very difficult to distinguish between poisonous and edible wild mushrooms,’ Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Clare Looker said in April.
‘So people are advised to only consume commercially bought mushrooms.’
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