Three people in Australia have died and another is fighting for their lives following they allegedly ate poisonous mushrooms. The person who served the mushrooms is alive and well and is a person of interest in the case.
This story happened in Leongatha, Victoria in Australia. Just as some background into the town, the word ‘Leongatha’ is a Boonwurrung Aboriginal word which probably meant “teeth” or referred to teeth.
The town has a population of around 5,000 people.
Erin Patterson is a 48 year old woman. She invited her former parents-in-law Don and Gail Patterson (both 70 years old), along with Gail’s sister Heather (66) and her husband Ian (68), to a family gathering at her rural property on July 29.
Erin’s ex husband is Simon Patterson. The couple have two children together and they split in recent years. Their relationship is said to be amicable. Erin is a stay-at-home mother and Simon works in the property industry. The Leongatha home where this all happened was purchased in 2019.
Erin and Simon used to run local newsletter the Burra Flyer after Erin took over the role as editor from Don and Gail in 2018.
Erin wrote this as a post in the newsletter once she took it over. “ Thank you Don and Gail Patterson, the Flyer’s previous editors, for the enormous time and energy that they put into keeping the Burra Flyer going for the past five years,’ she said.
‘They are extraordinarily generous with their time and I am grateful for the support they have given to ensure a smooth changeover.
‘Thank you to the contributors and advertisers for their patience while we have been learning the ropes.
‘I hope we can do the Burra Flyer the justice it deserves.’
As for the victims in this case, Gail and Don were well known members of their community. They had both worked at the local high school Korumburra Secondary College. Gail had worked in the office and Don was a science teacher at the school.
A former colleague of the couple, Lee Clements said ‘They were very Christian and very lovely people. They would always say hello and acknowledge everyone.’
Ms Clements said the couple loved to travel and Don had recently visited China to further his religious studies. They also hosted a Chinese exchange student a few years ago.
She described Heather and Gail as being close.
Ian Wilkinson was the pastor of Korumburra Baptist Church, while his wife Heather worked as a teacher’s aide at Komburra Secondary College. Ian also ran a carpentry business.
Now to goto July 29, a Saturday.
Erin, Don, Gail, Heather and Ian got together at Erin’s home. I believe Erin’s two children were also there. From what I have read, Simon was not there. The group had a meal together. I believe the children ate something different from the adults. It is unclear if Erin ate the same meal.
The following day, Sunday July 30, Don, Gail, Heather and Ian became unwell with what they believed was gastro/stomach flu. All four went to hospital on that day because their symptoms were so severe.
They all remained in hospital in critical conditions. On Friday August 4, Gail and Heather passed away in hospital. Don died the following day, Saturday August 5.
Ian is still in hospital and has sustained such severe liver damage that he has to have a liver transplant.
Police seemed to start to investigate Erin on that day, August 5. This is when they first went to her home and seized some items.
The following day, Victoria Police Detective Inspector for the Homicide Squad, Dean Thomas, confirmed Erin was being treated as a person of interest.
‘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,’ he said.
Mr Thomas said while the homicide squad was investigating the deaths, it did not mean they were being treated as suspicious at this stage – only ‘unexplained’.
Mr Thomas, said the children are ‘incredibly distressed’ and ‘doing the best they can’ following the shock deaths.
A food dehydrator was found at a nearby garbage dump and this has been taken for investigation.
Police went back to Erin’s house on August 6 to question her. Loud wailing could be heard coming from the home.
Erin spoke to the media the following day, August 7.
‘I didn’t do anything,’ she said, wiping away tears.
‘I loved them and I’m devastated that they’re gone.’
She then mistakenly confused Don with Ian by expressing her ‘hope’ that ‘Don pulls through’.
Erin said all four guests were wonderful people and had always treated her with kindness.
‘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,’ she continued.
‘Ian and Heather were some of the best people I’d ever met. They never did anything wrong to me.’
‘What happened is devastating and I’m grieving too and you guys don’t have any respect for that,’ she said.
Erin was forced to navigate around reporters that had gathered at her front door.
‘Can I just get to my door, stop standing in front of me,’ she said.
‘You don’t have any permission to be on my private property or harass me,’ she said.
‘This kind of behaviour will send someone right off a bridge.’
When asked ‘How she was going’ by a reporter, Erin stated the obvious.
‘I’m going sh*thouse. Thanks for asking. You guys aren’t helping,’ she responded.
Erin packed a suitcase at this time and seemed to leave the property.
On August 8, it was revealed that Erin’s former partner had almost died in 2022. This info is from a social media post he made.
It is believed that the deceased were poisoned by death cap mushrooms.
Death cap mushrooms can grow anywhere in our region, at any time. All parts of the death cap mushroom are poisonous. Eating even a small amount of a death cap mushroom can kill you. Death cap mushrooms remain potentially lethal, even if cooked.
- Do not touch or eat wild mushrooms.
- Talk to your family and friends about staying away from any wild mushrooms.
- Remind visitors and people new to the area that Death cap mushrooms grow here.
- Keep children and pets away from wild mushrooms.
Symptoms and medical treatment
If you think you may have eaten a death cap mushroom:
- Seek immediate medical attention at a hospital emergency department.
- Do not wait for symptoms to occur.
- The chances of survival increase when treatment is started early.
- Take any remaining mushroom to the hospital for identification.
- Do this by placing any remaining mushroom in a sealed and labelled container.
- Wash your hands and any equipment or tools which have come into contact with the mushroom.
Symptoms of death cap mushroom poisoning generally occur 6–24 hours or more after ingestion and include abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Symptoms may subside for 1–2 days giving a false impression of recovery. However, by this stage the toxin will have already caused serious liver damage. Liver failure and death may occur.
It can be extremely difficult to distinguish death cap mushrooms from edible mushrooms, even for experienced collectors.
On Friday August 11, Erin gave a statement to 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.”
“I am hoping this statement might help in some way. I believe if people understood the background more, they would not be so quick to rush to judgement.
“I am now devastated to think that these mushrooms may have contributed to the illness suffered by my loved ones. I really want to repeat that I had absolutely no reason to hurt these people whom I loved.”
In the statement, Erin said advice she received immediately after the deaths was to give a “no comment” interview to police, which she said she now regretted.
“I now very much regret not answering some questions following this advice given the nightmare that this process has become,” she said.
Erin said she found the police interview “terrifying and anxiety-provoking”.
She said that on the day of the lunch, she prepared a meal of beef Wellington for herself and her four elderly guests.
Contrary to initial reports from police, who said Erin’s children were present but did not eat the meal, Erin said the children had actually gone to the movies prior to lunch.
Erin told police she served the meal and allowed the guests to choose their own plates. She then took the last plate and ate a serve of the beef Wellington herself.
Erin said the mushrooms were a mixture of button mushrooms purchased at a major supermarket chain, and dried mushrooms bought at an Asian grocery store in Melbourne months previously.
The Patterson children ate the leftovers from the lunch the following night.
Erin said the children do not like mushrooms, so she scraped them off the meal.
Erin said it had not been previously reported that she was also hospitalised after the lunch with bad stomach pains and diarrhoea, and was put on a saline drip and given a “liver protective drug”.
She said she was transported by ambulance from the Leongatha Hospital to the Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne on July 31.
The Gippsland Southern Health Service confirmed a fifth person who presented at Leongatha Hospital on July 30 with suspected food poisoning later returned and was sent to Monash.
As her guests fell critically ill, Erin said she was contacted by the Department of Health and asked what might have caused the violent reaction to the meal.
She said she preserved what was left of the lunch and gave it to hospital toxicologists for examination. She said she told investigators from the department where she had bought the mushrooms – although was unable to identify the specific shop in Melbourne where she bought the dried fungi.
Erin said officials from the Department later sent her photographs of packs of mushrooms with hand-written labels, similar to those she described to them.
Erin also admitted she lied to investigators when she told them she had dumped it at the tip “a long time ago”.
She said she was at the hospital with her children “discussing the food dehydrator” when her ex-husband, the son of the dead couple, asked: “Is that what you used to poison them?”
Worried that she might lose custody of the couple’s children, Erin said she then panicked and dumped the dehydrator at the tip.
Erin also addressed her husband’s 2022 illness. She told police that she “reluctantly” agreed to nurse Simon for three weeks after he was discharged from hospital, before telling him that she did not want to reconcile with him.
Erin told police that Simon had intended joining the fatal lunch but told her “prior to the day” that he would not be attending.
She paid tribute to her parents-in-law, saying she had been close to them for a long time and had maintained a positive relationship even after her marriage breakdown.
“I had been close with Simon’s parents for a long period of time. Our relationship had continued in a fairly amicable way after I finished the relationship with their son Simon,” she said.
“Our relationship was affected to some degree by seeing them less after my marriage breakdown with Simon however I have never felt differently towards his parents.
“I had a deep love and respect for Simon’s parents and had encouraged my children to spend time with their grandparents as I believed they were exceptional role models.”
After Erin made the statement about purchasing dried mushrooms, Asian grocery store owners in the area spoke to the media and denied that she could have purchased the mushrooms from any of them.
One shopkeeper said none of their mushrooms were labelled in the way Erin reportedly described her purchase to police.
‘She said they were a handwritten, white label and we have never sold that,’ he said.
A shopkeeper from a store called East Mart was interviewed by the media. That person said they did not even sell dried mushrooms, with the shopkeeper – via use of Google Translate – showing his fridge stocked with only fresh or frozen mushrooms.
In a possibly unrelated but interesting twist, a tradesman who worked on one of Erin’s previously owned properties came forward and said that there was a wall with disturbing images drawn on it in the house.
“You don’t long to live 1 hour exactly,” one section reads.
“Your dead from my sword,” another says.
Underneath two stick figures of a male and female are the words “I am dead” and “no I am really dead”, above what appear to be three tombstones.
One of the tombstones appears to say “grandma R.I.P.” while the third reads “ME R.I.P.”
Around August 16, Erin spoke to the Australian to talk about how the case has affected her.
‘I lost my parents-in-law, my children lost their grandparents,’ she said.
‘And I’ve been painted as an evil witch. And the media is making it impossible for me to live in this town.
‘I can’t have friends over. The media is at the house where my children are at. The media are at my sister’s house so I can’t go there. This is unfair.’