Woman charged with murder over mushroom deaths

Rachael Ward and Tara Cosoleto |

Heather Wilkinson, Gail Patterson and Don Patterson died after a lunch at a Leongatha home in July.
Heather Wilkinson, Gail Patterson and Don Patterson died after a lunch at a Leongatha home in July.

A 49-year-old woman has been charged with murder after three people died from suspected mushroom poisoning in a regional Victorian town. 

Erin Patterson was on Thursday charged by homicide squad detectives after she was arrested at her Leongatha home in South Gippsland.

Police searched the property and questioned Patterson for several hours before charging her with three counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder.

She was remanded in custody to appear at Morwell Magistrates Court on Friday. 

The murder charges and two attempted murder charges relate to an incident on July 29 where four people fell ill after lunch at Patterson’s Leongatha home.

Heather Wilkinson, 66, her sister Gail Patterson and brother-in-law Don Patterson, both 70, all died after the meal.

Ms Wilkinson’s husband Ian, 68, spent close to two months in hospital critically ill and is still in recovery.

Patterson’s two children were also at home during the lunch but did not eat the same meal.

Police say the additional three attempted murder charges relate to three separate incidents in Victoria between 2021 and 2022.

“This investigation has been subject to incredibly intense level of public scrutiny and curiosity,” Detective Inspector Dean Thomas told reporters.

“It’s particularly important that we keep in mind that at the heart of this, three people have lost their lives.

Detective Inspector Dean Thomas
The arrest is “just the next step” in the investigation, Detective Inspector Dean Thomas says.

“These are three people who by all accounts were much beloved in their communities and are greatly missed by their loved ones.”

Police cars were seen parked outside Patterson’s home on Thursday morning as half a dozen specialist officers and trained dogs inspected the property.

A garage, shed, green bin and car were searched while the canines went in and out of the house.

Police believe the symptoms the four diners experienced were consistent with being poisoned by death cap mushrooms.

Homicide detectives had earlier named Patterson, the Pattersons’ daughter-in-law, as a suspect as she cooked the lunch that is believed to have led to the deaths.

She was previously interviewed by police and was released without charge.

In a statement to police obtained by the ABC, Patterson said she made a Beef Wellington using button mushrooms from a major supermarket and dried mushrooms bought at an Asian grocery store.

She said she ate a serving and later suffered bad stomach pains and diarrhoea, contrary to the suggestion of detectives that she did not fall ill.

She denied any wrongdoing.

Police have not commented on Patterson’s statement other than to say it was not one taken by officers.

Police search at Leongatha
Specialist officers and trained dogs inspected the Erin Patterson’s property.

Det Insp Thomas warned people to be mindful of speculation and of sharing misinformation about the probe.

“While we do want to provide timely updates about this matter, it is critical that doing this does not adversely impact the current investigation or any future processes,” he said.

Hundreds of people attended public memorials for Mrs Wilkinson, Mrs Patterson and Mr Patterson, who were remembered for their commitment to their families and tight-knit community in Korumburra.