A woman whose poisonous mushroom lunch killed three of her family members – including her former parents-in-law – in Australia has denied any wrongdoing.
Erin Patterson, 48, hosted a lunch with her former in-laws, Gail and Don Patterson, along with Gail’s sister, Heather Wilkinson, and her husband Ian at her home in Leongatha, in Victoria’s Gippsland region, on July 29.
All four guests became ill after they ate their meal, which included hand-picked mushrooms. They went to hospital the next day as their condition worsened, with the two sisters, aged 70 and 66, dying on Friday. Don, 70, died on Saturday night.
Ian, 68, remains in a critical condition in hospital and is believed to be waiting on a liver transplant.
On Monday, an emotional Erin – who was reportedly heard ‘wailing’ after cops visited the home over the weekend – spoke publicly for the first time outside the house where the fatal lunch took place.
Erin Patterson (pictured), who is at the centre of the suspected poisoning of four people, broke down in tears and denied any wrongdoing when she was confronted by the media
Erin Patterson, 48, hosted a lunch with her former in-laws, Gail and Don Patterson, along with Gail’s sister, Heather Wilkinson, and her husband Ian at her home in Leongatha, in Victoria’s Gippsland region, on July 29. Pictured: The home in Leongatha
‘I didn’t do anything,’ she told the media.
‘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 spoke for a couple of minutes but did not answer questions about where the mushrooms came from, who picked them or what meal she made for her guests.
‘I’m so devastated by what’s happened,’ she said as she wiped away a tear.
She described the two couples as ‘some of the best people I’ve ever met’.
Erin broke down as she explained that Gail was like a mother to her after her own mother had died.
‘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 said.
‘Ian and Heather were some of the best people I’d ever met. They never did anything wrong to me.
‘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.’
Erin repeatedly said she was ‘devastated’ and couldn’t ‘fathom what has happened’.
Ian Wilkinson and Heather Wilkinson (both pictured) became severely ill after they ate wild mushrooms. Mrs Wilkinson died on Friday while her husband remains in a critical condition in hospital and is understood to be waiting for a liver transplant
Gail and Don Patterson died after eating the mushrooms. It’s understood that Erin was previously married to their son, Simon
‘I’m devastated, I loved them and I can’t believe this has happened and I’m so sorry that they have lost their lives,’ she added.
Erin was previously married to Don and Gail’s son, Simon, and had been living at the Leongatha property for the past 12 months.
Detectives from the homicide squad questioned Erin when they searched the property on Saturday, and she was reportedly heard ‘wailing’ after cops visited the home at the weekend – according to Seven News.
She was released pending further enquiries.
Victoria Police Detective Inspector for the Homicide Squad, Dean Thomas, confirmed Erin was a person of interest as she had cooked the meal.
‘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 on Monday.
Charges are not expected to be laid at this stage of the investigation.
Erin has not answered questions about where the mushrooms came from, who picked them or what meal she made for her four guests (pictured, foraged mushroom)
Mr Thomas added that while investigations into the trio’s deaths did not mean they were necessarily being treated as suspicious, they are ‘unexplained’.
Erin’s two children were also present at the lunch but Mr Thomas said they ate different meals to the adults and did not experience any illnesses.
Those two children were taken to hospital as a precaution and have been removed from their mother’s care.
Mr Thomas said police were ‘presuming’ the deaths were from mushrooms, adding the symptoms presented are linked to death cap mushrooms.
‘We’ve seized a number of exhibits in relation to the matter, a lot of the items we have seized will be forensically tested in the hope that they can shed some light on what’s occurred,’ he said.
Mr Thomas earlier told local radio that officers were working to determine if any ‘nefarious activity’ had occurred.
He added: ‘We will be working closely with medical experts, toxicologists … in the hope we can understand exactly what has gone on and provide some answers to the family.
‘We’re trying to understand who ate what at the lunch, whether that person that did not become ill did or did not eat the mushrooms … And of course, we’re trying to ascertain what it is that has actually caused the poisoning … to the four people that attended.’
Earlier this year Victoria Health also warned people not to pick dangerous mushrooms after weeks of wet weather.
On Sunday the Wilkinson and Patterson families released a statement on the tragedy.
The property where the deadly lunch occurred at Leongatha, in Victoria’s Gippsland region
Real estate photos show mushrooms growing at the base of a tree at Ms Patterson’s Leongatha property
‘The past week has been a time of shock and grief for us all,’ it read, as reported in the local paper, the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times.
‘They were parents, grandparents, siblings, children, and pillars of faith within our community.’
‘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.’
‘Our families will assist appropriate authorities in any way we can and respect any necessary processes amidst this tragedy.’