The investigation into the mushroom poisoning deaths that have plagued Victoria’s Gippsland region for months saw a major advance on Thursday with the arrest of Erin Patterson.
Patterson, 48, cooked a beef Wellington pie, believed to have been laced with death cap mushrooms, for a family dinner at her home in Leongatha in the state’s southeast on July 29. She has not been charged with any crime.
Three of her four guests – her former in-laws Gail and Don Patterson, both 70, and Gail’s sister Heather Wilkinson, 66 – later died after being hospitalized with severe symptoms that were initially mistaken for gastrointestinal distress.
Heather’s husband Ian, 68, fought for his life in hospital for weeks before miraculously surviving after a liver transplant.
Patterson had previously denied any wrongdoing and said she could not explain why the group became ill after eating the dish.
But more than two months later, the mysterious case took a huge turn on Thursday when investigators took her in for questioning and simultaneously searched her home.
As their police questioning continues, Daily Mail Australia examines leads police have followed up on during the months-long investigation.
Erin Patterson is pictured speaking to reporters outside her home in Leongatha in August
1. The mushrooms
In the days after the four guests fell ill, medical teams at hospitals in Melbourne (where they were later transferred) began to suspect they had ingested death cap mushrooms because their livers were rapidly deteriorating.
Forensic tests confirmed in late September that the three deaths were indeed due to death cap poisoning.
Due to the highly regulated nature of the mushroom industry, experts believe it is extremely unlikely that poisonous mushrooms will reach supermarket shelves.
Therefore, at the beginning of the investigation, the police announced that they considered the case suspicious.
Daily Mail Australia does not believe Erin was responsible for the poisonings or deaths.
Pictured: The local meeting point where the police found and confiscated a dehydrator
2. The dehydrator
Death cap mushrooms, found under oak trees, grow in warm, wet weather in the wild around the Gippsland region of Victoria.
Autumn provides the ideal flowering conditions for mushroom growth, and government health officials typically issue warnings to Victorians in April to beware of eating wild mushrooms.
Because the deadly lunch occurred in winter, death cap mushrooms were no longer in season.
On August 4, the same day that Gail and Heather died in the hospital, police confiscated a food dehydrator, used to dehydrate vegetables for later cooking, from the local landfill.
The cooking device was sent for forensic examination at the start of the investigation to determine whether it contained death cap spores. Police have not yet publicly announced the results.
In a statement later given to police, Erin admitted dumping the dehydrator at the landfill “in a panic” after her ex-husband Simon Patterson accused her of poisoning his parents.
She added that she initially lied to police when she told officers she had thrown the device away “a long time ago.”
Gail and Don Patterson died after eating the mushrooms
Ian Wilkinson and Heather Wilkinson (both pictured) became seriously ill after eating wild mushrooms. Ms Wilkinson died in August, while her husband was released from hospital in September after fighting for his life for weeks
3. Erin’s statement
In the hours after Don’s death on August 5, investigators searched Erin’s home and took her in for questioning.
She gave an interview without comment and was released later that evening.
However, nine days later, she submitted a detailed statement to investigators about the lunch, saying she regretted not previously speaking to investigators at the direction of her lawyers.
In the statement, Erin claimed she used a combination of mushrooms in the dish – some of which she bought from a local supermarket, while the others came from an Asian grocer in Mount Waverley in Melbourne.
However, Asian grocers in the area denied her claims and no health warnings or product recalls were ever issued in connection with the deadly lunch.
While initial police reports said her two children were present at lunch but ate a separate meal, Erin said the children actually left the house to go to the movies.
However, she said the children later ate the meal as leftovers but the mushrooms were scraped off as they don’t like them.
While police initially said Erin did not become ill after lunch, she revealed in her statement that she also went to the hospital with stomach pains and was given “liver medication.”
The statement contradicted initial police reports and although it may be inadmissible in a court case because it was never signed, the information provided by Erin will be taken into account by investigators investigating the case.
Simon Patterson (pictured) fell ill with a mysterious illness last year which left him fighting for his life in hospital
4. The mysterious illness
As news of the fatal lunch broke, it was revealed that Erin’s ex-husband Simon had suffered from a mysterious illness last year.
He almost died and was in an induced coma for more than two weeks.
Detectives will investigate whether the illness is related to the lunch incident.
Daily Mail Australia also does not indicate that police suspect Erin was in any way to blame or responsible for Simon’s illness, only that the incident will form part of the investigation.
5. The sole survivor
Ian Wilkinson, a local Baptist minister in Korumburra, was released from hospital on September 22 after fighting for his life in hospital for almost two months.
As the only surviving lunch guest, his witness account will be crucial to investigators finding out what happened at Erin Patterson’s Leongatha home that day.
Pictured is police executing a search warrant at Erin Patterson’s home in Leongatha on Thursday
Victoria Homicide Squad detectives announced on Thursday that a woman had been arrested in connection with their investigation into the deaths of three people following an incident in Leongatha earlier this year.
“With the assistance of the AFP, a search warrant was executed at the Gibson Street address.” [Australian Federal Police] “Technology sniffer dogs,” police said.
“The woman is now being questioned by police and investigations are ongoing.”
MUSHROOM POISONING: A TIMELINE OF EVENTS
29th of July
Don and Gail Patterson and Heather and Ian Wilkinson (a pastor) meet for a Saturday lunch at Erin Patterson’s home in Leongatha, northeast of Melbourne.
All four lunch guests go to the hospital sick. It is initially assumed that they have gastro.
As their condition worsens, they are being transferred to hospitals in Melbourne.
4th of August
Gail and Heather die in the hospital.
5th of August
Don dies in the hospital. Police search Erin Patterson’s home in Leongatha and seize a number of items.
6th of August
The police are seen returning to Erin’s house to question her. She can be heard crying loudly inside the house before the four officers leave.
Victoria Police Homicide Detective Superintendent Dean Thomas confirmed Erin is being treated as a person of interest in the case.
However, he says the investigation is still in its early stages and has yet to determine whether the deaths are suspicious.
A short time later, Erin breaks her silence and speaks to reporters outside the house. She says she is devastated and “loves” the four relatives who came to her home. She denies any wrongdoing but will not answer questions about where the mushrooms came from, who picked them or what food she prepared for her guests.
In June 2022, it was revealed that Simon Patterson had suffered from a mysterious stomach illness. He fell into a coma and was in intensive care for 21 days. His case still needs to be cleared by doctors.
Forensic tests are underway to find any traces of death cap mushrooms on a dehydrator discovered in a landfill. Police believe it was used in the preparation of the food.
The police return to the dump and ask for CCTV footage and knock on the neighbors’ door
Daily Mail Australia reveals Simon Patterson was expected for lunch but pulled out at the last minute
Erin Patterson provided investigators with a statement after initially not commenting.
She claims she purchased the mushrooms used in the dish from two different stores, including the local supermarket and an Asian grocer in Melbourne.
Ian Wilkinson is released from hospital.
The police arrest Erin Patterson and take her in for questioning while also searching her apartment.