Three people in Australia have died and another is fighting for their lives following they allegedly ate poisonous mushrooms. The person who served the mushrooms is alive and well and is a person of interest in the case.
This story happened in Leongatha, Victoria in Australia. Just as some background into the town, the word ‘Leongatha’ is a Boonwurrung Aboriginal word which probably meant “teeth” or referred to teeth.
The town has a population of around 5,000 people.
Erin Patterson is a 48 year old woman. She invited her former parents-in-law Don and Gail Patterson (both 70 years old), along with Gail’s sister Heather (66) and her husband Ian (68), to a family gathering at her rural property on July 29.
Erin’s ex husband is Simon Patterson. The couple have two children together and they split in recent years. Their relationship is said to be amicable. Erin is a stay-at-home mother and Simon works in the property industry. The Leongatha home where this all happened was purchased in 2019.
Erin and Simon used to run local newsletter the Burra Flyer after Erin took over the role as editor from Don and Gail in 2018.
Erin wrote this as a post in the newsletter once she took it over. “ Thank you Don and Gail Patterson, the Flyer’s previous editors, for the enormous time and energy that they put into keeping the Burra Flyer going for the past five years,’ she said.
‘They are extraordinarily generous with their time and I am grateful for the support they have given to ensure a smooth changeover.
‘Thank you to the contributors and advertisers for their patience while we have been learning the ropes.
‘I hope we can do the Burra Flyer the justice it deserves.’
As for the victims in this case, Gail and Don were well known members of their community. They had both worked at the local high school Korumburra Secondary College. Gail had worked in the office and Don was a science teacher at the school.
A former colleague of the couple, Lee Clements said ‘They were very Christian and very lovely people. They would always say hello and acknowledge everyone.’
Ms Clements said the couple loved to travel and Don had recently visited China to further his religious studies. They also hosted a Chinese exchange student a few years ago.
She described Heather and Gail as being close.
Ian Wilkinson was the pastor of Korumburra Baptist Church, while his wife Heather worked as a teacher’s aide at Komburra Secondary College. Ian also ran a carpentry business.
Now to goto July 29, a Saturday.
Erin, Don, Gail, Heather and Ian got together at Erin’s home. I believe Erin’s two children were also there. From what I have read, Simon was not there. The group had a meal together. I believe the children ate something different from the adults. It is unclear if Erin ate the same meal.
The following day, Sunday July 30, Don, Gail, Heather and Ian became unwell with what they believed was gastro/stomach flu. All four went to hospital on that day because their symptoms were so severe.
They all remained in hospital in critical conditions. On Friday August 4, Gail and Heather passed away in hospital. Don died the following day, Saturday August 5.
Ian is still in hospital and has sustained such severe liver damage that he has to have a liver transplant.
Police seemed to start to investigate Erin on that day, August 5. This is when they first went to her home and seized some items.
The following day, Victoria Police Detective Inspector for the Homicide Squad, Dean Thomas, confirmed Erin was being treated as a person of interest.
‘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.
Mr Thomas said while the homicide squad was investigating the deaths, it did not mean they were being treated as suspicious at this stage – only ‘unexplained’.
Mr Thomas, said the children are ‘incredibly distressed’ and ‘doing the best they can’ following the shock deaths.
A food dehydrator was found at a nearby garbage dump and this has been taken for investigation.
Police went back to Erin’s house on August 6 to question her. Loud wailing could be heard coming from the home.
Erin spoke to the media the following day, August 7.
‘I didn’t do anything,’ she said, wiping away tears.
‘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 said all four guests were wonderful people and had always treated her with kindness.
‘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 continued.
‘Ian and Heather were some of the best people I’d ever met. They never did anything wrong to me.’
‘What happened is devastating and I’m grieving too and you guys don’t have any respect for that,’ she said.
Erin was forced to navigate around reporters that had gathered at her front door.
‘Can I just get to my door, stop standing in front of me,’ she said.
‘You don’t have any permission to be on my private property or harass me,’ she said.
‘This kind of behaviour will send someone right off a bridge.’
When asked ‘How she was going’ by a reporter, Erin stated the obvious.
‘I’m going sh*thouse. Thanks for asking. You guys aren’t helping,’ she responded.
Erin packed a suitcase at this time and seemed to leave the property.
On August 8, it was revealed that Erin’s former partner had almost died in 2022. This info is from a social media post he made.
It is believed that the deceased were poisoned by death cap mushrooms.
Death cap mushrooms can grow anywhere in our region, at any time. All parts of the death cap mushroom are poisonous. Eating even a small amount of a death cap mushroom can kill you. Death cap mushrooms remain potentially lethal, even if cooked.
- Do not touch or eat wild mushrooms.
- Talk to your family and friends about staying away from any wild mushrooms.
- Remind visitors and people new to the area that Death cap mushrooms grow here.
- Keep children and pets away from wild mushrooms.
Symptoms and medical treatment
If you think you may have eaten a death cap mushroom:
- Seek immediate medical attention at a hospital emergency department.
- Do not wait for symptoms to occur.
- The chances of survival increase when treatment is started early.
- Take any remaining mushroom to the hospital for identification.
- Do this by placing any remaining mushroom in a sealed and labelled container.
- Wash your hands and any equipment or tools which have come into contact with the mushroom.
Symptoms of death cap mushroom poisoning generally occur 6–24 hours or more after ingestion and include abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Symptoms may subside for 1–2 days giving a false impression of recovery. However, by this stage the toxin will have already caused serious liver damage. Liver failure and death may occur.
It can be extremely difficult to distinguish death cap mushrooms from edible mushrooms, even for experienced collectors.