Melbourne – Australian police charged a woman with murder on Thursday over a mushroom meal that left three people dead and a local preacher fighting for his life.
Erin Patterson, 49, faces three counts of murder and two of attempted murder over the meal, Victoria state detectives said in a statement.
She has publicly denied any wrongdoing.
The charges were laid just hours after detectives had arrested her and searched her home in the small rural town of Leongatha, Southeast of Melbourne.
In addition, police said they had charged Patterson with another three counts of attempted murder over three earlier incidents in 2021-2022 when a 48-year-old man “became ill after meals”.
It was the latest twist in a saga that has gripped the nation.
Patterson allegedly served a beef Wellington meal on July 29 to her estranged parents-in-law Don and Gail Patterson, local Baptist pastor Ian Wilkinson and his wife Heather.
Later that night, the two couples were taken to hospital with food poisoning symptoms as their health rapidly deteriorated.
Within a week, three of them were dead.
Of the four, only 69-year-old pastor Wilkinson survived after spending nearly two months gravely ill in hospital. He was released on September 23.
He appeared for the first time in public in early October at a memorial for his wife, with a local newspaper describing him as “frail-looking” and “using a walking frame”.
Police have said their symptoms were consistent with those caused by eating highly toxic death cap mushrooms, though they made no reference to the ingredient in their latest statement.
“Today’s charges are just the next step in what has been an incredibly complex, methodical and thorough investigation by Homicide Squad detectives,” said Detective Inspector Dean Thomas of the Victorian police homicide squad.
“I think it is particularly important that we keep in mind that at the heart of this, three people have lost their lives,” he said.
In smaller communities, “a tragedy such as this can reverberate for years to come”, he added.
Police had named community newsletter editor Patterson as a suspect soon after the fateful meal.
Patterson always insisted she was innocent, reportedly saying in August that she had unwittingly bought the mushrooms from an Asian grocery store and that the poisonings were accidental.
“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.”
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.
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