Australian police on Thursday arrested the host of a luncheon gathering thatfrom suspected mushroom poisoning and a local preacher fighting for life.
Victoria state police executed a search warrant at Erin Patterson’s home at Leongatha where 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, gathered on July 29 for lunch.
All four guests were hospitalized the next day and only Ian Wilkinson, a local pastor, survived. He spent nearly two months gravely ill in hospital before being released on September 23.
Homicide detectives would interview Erin Patterson after the search of her home was completed, Victoria Police Detective Inspector Dean Thomas said.
“Today’s arrest is just the next step in what has been a complex and thorough investigation by Homicide Squad detectives and one that is not yet over,” Thomas told reporters.
The probe had been subject to “incredibly intense” media and public interest in Australia and internationally, he said.
“I think it is particularly important that we keep in mind that at the heart of this three people have lost their lives,” Thomas said.
In smaller communities, “a tragedy such as this can reverberate for years to come,” he added.
Police said they arrested Patterson in the morning and began a search of her home with the help of “technology detector dogs,” which can sniff out electronic devices such as USB keys.
Detectives had previously interviewed the 49-year-old about the fatal lunch but no charges have been laid.
She has publicly denied any wrongdoing.
“I am now devastated to think that these mushrooms may have contributed to the illness suffered by my loved ones,” she said in a statement provided to Australian media at the time. “I really want to repeat that I had absolutely no reason to hurt these people whom I loved.”
A memorial service for Don and Gail Patterson was held at the end of August. Reverend Fran Grimes told the congregation that the community was trying to “shield and protect the family from heartless speculation and gossip.”
Death cap mushrooms
Police say the symptoms the four diners had suffered were consistent with poisoning by wild.
Death cap mushrooms sprout freely throughout wet, warm parts of Australia and are easily mistaken for edible varieties.
They reportedly taste sweeter than other types of mushrooms but possess potent toxins that slowly poison the liver and kidneys.
Death caps are responsible for 90% of lethal mushroom poisoning globally, the BBC reported. In 2020, a spate of poisonings in Victoria killed one person and hospitalized seven others.
Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported that Erin Patterson had written in a statement that she had 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 had also eaten the meal and later suffered stomach pains and diarrhea.
Her children, who were not present at the lunch, ate some of the leftover Beef Wellington the next day, the BBC reported. However the mushrooms had been scraped off the dish as they do not like them, she said.
Police had previously searched her home on Aug. 5, the day the third diner died.
AFP contributed to this report.