Police in Australia have charged a woman as part of an investigation into the deaths of three people from suspected mushroom poisoning.

Homicide squad detectives from Victoria Police arrested a 49-year-old woman at her home in the town of Leongatha earlier this week. The suspect, Erin Patterson, is the daughter-in-law of the couple who died.

Patterson has been charged with three counts of murder and five of attempted murder. She was remanded in custody before appearing at Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court.

The murder charges and two attempted murder charges relate to an incident in July.

Incidents across three years
Four people were taken to hospital on July 30 after they became ill following a meal at a private residence in Leongatha the previous day. Two Korumburra women, aged 66 and 70, passed away in hospital on August 4. A 70-year-old Korumburra man died in hospital on August 5. A 69-year-old Korumburra man was released from hospital on Sept. 23.

Don and Gail Patterson and her sister Heather Wilkinson are thought to have died from symptoms consistent with death cap mushroom poisoning. Ian Wilkinson survived the incident.

A search warrant has been executed at the house with assistance from detector dogs.

Three attempted murder charges cover three separate incidents in Victoria between 2021 and 2022. It’s alleged a 48-year-old Korumburra man became ill following meals over this period.

Detective Inspector Dean Thomas from the Homicide Squad said during the past three months, the investigation had been subjected to intense public scrutiny and curiosity.

“I think it is particularly important that we keep in mind that at the heart of this, three people have lost their lives. These three people were much beloved in their communities and are greatly missed by their loved ones,” he said.

“I know that people will no doubt have many unanswered questions about this matter; however, I urge people to be especially mindful of unnecessary speculation and not sharing misinformation. I want to thank members of the public who have reached out and provided information about this incident.” 

Death cap mushroom danger
Eating just one death cap mushroom may kill an adult, according to the Victorian Department of Health. Poisonous mushrooms, including death caps, occur in Victoria during autumn as the weather becomes wetter and cooler.

Cooking, peeling, or drying these mushrooms does not remove the poison. There is no home test to distinguish safe and edible mushrooms from poisonous types.

Symptoms of poisoning can include violent stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea and usually occur six to 24 hours after eating the mushrooms. Even if initial symptoms subside, severe liver damage may have happened. People should urgently attend an emergency department if they believe they’ve eaten a poisonous mushroom and take any remaining mushrooms with them for identification.

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