Host accused of poisoning guests with deadly mushrooms charged with murder

Heather Wilkinson (left) and Ian Wilkinson (right) attended a lunch with a relative that led to Heather's death and left Ian fighting for his life. Police believe they were poisoned with death cap mushrooms. The Salvation Army Australia - Museum/Facebook

An Australian woman hosted four of her former husband’s relatives for lunch at her home in Leongatha in late July. Shortly after, the four guests were hospitalized with severe gastrointestinal problems. Only one survived.

Now, after months of investigation, Australian police have charged Erin Patterson, 49, with three counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder.

The case gained international attention this summer after police said the four diners’ symptoms were consistent with poisoning by death cap mushrooms.

Click to play video: 'Australia police investigating after 3 die from suspected mushroom poisoning'
Australia police investigating after 3 die from suspected mushroom poisoning

Erin’s guests included her former husband’s parents Gail and Don Patterson, both aged 70, Gail Patterson’s sister Heather Wilkinson, 66, and her husband Ian Wilkinson, 68. Ian was the only guest to survive.

Story continues below advertisement

Erin is additionally accused of trying to murder her former husband, Simon Patterson, who was not present at the lunch that day.

Police allege that Erin’s husband became ill following three separate meals between 2021 and 2022. She faces an attempted murder charge for each of these three incidents.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

Simon wrote on Facebook that he nearly died in the summer of 2022 from “serious gut problems.” He said he collapsed at home and spent 16 days in an induced coma. After three surgeries, mostly on his small intestine, and a month in the hospital, he recovered.

“My family were asked to come and say goodbye to me twice, as I was not expected to live,” Simon wrote at the time.

It’s unclear if this incident gave rise to one of the attempted murder charges against his former wife.

Erin will remain in police custody until she appears in a local court on Friday, when she can potentially apply to be released on bail. Bail for murder is usually a decision referred to a higher court.

She has publicly denied any wrongdoing.

“I’m devastated. I loved them. I can’t believe that this has happened and I’m so sorry,” she tearfully told reporters days after her lunch guests died.

Story continues below advertisement

Australian Broadcasting Corp. 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 diarrhea.

Ian, a Baptist pastor who survived the lunch, was released from a hospital in late September and police say he continues to recover.

Murder in Victoria carries a potential maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.

Death cap mushrooms are one of the deadliest mushrooms in the world, and may be responsible for about 90 per cent of all fatal fungi poisonings worldwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

Symptoms of death cap mushroom poisoning include nausea, vomiting and low blood sugar, though liver and kidney damage can start to set in three to six days after ingestion, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control states.

Det. Insp. Dean Thomas of Victoria police said this case “has been subjected to incredibly intense levels of public scrutiny and curiosity.”

“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.

Story continues below advertisement

“I think it is particularly important that we keep in mind that at the heart of this, three people have lost their lives. These are three people who by all accounts were much beloved in their communities and are greatly missed by their loved ones.”

— With files from The Associated Press

Sponsored content