Australian Woman Charged With Murder After In-Laws’ Suspected Mushroom Poisoning

Erin Patterson's two in-laws, and one of their relatives, died after eating a meal Patterson made them in July, police said.

An Australian woman suspected of poisoning her in-laws with a meal containing lethal death cap mushrooms has been charged with three counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder.

Erin Patterson, 49, was arrested Thursday following a roughly three-month investigation into the deaths of her mother- and father-in-law and one of their relatives after they were served a home-cooked meal at Patterson’s house in Victoria on July 29, authorities said.

Gail and Don Patterson, both aged 70, and Gail’s sister, Heather Wilkinson, 66, died shortly after consuming the meal. Wilkinson’s husband, Ian Wilkinson, 68, was hospitalized in critical condition and needed a liver transplant.

Patterson’s estranged husband, who reported nearly dying from “serious gut problems” last year, was not present at the meal. The couple’s two children did attend, but Patterson told police that the children don’t like mushrooms and picked them off the food, authorities said.

Death cap mushrooms (Amanita phalloides) are highly toxic, even in small amounts.
Death cap mushrooms (Amanita phalloides) are highly toxic, even in small amounts.
Mantonature via Getty Images

Police said the attempted murder charges are related to three separate incidents that took place in Victoria in 2021 and 2022.

“It’s alleged a 48-year-old Korumburra man became ill following meals on these dates,” police said.

Patterson’s husband, Simon Patterson, posted on social media last year that he was in an induced coma for 16 days and required three emergency operations on his small intestine after falling ill and nearly dying.

“Simon suspected he had been poisoned by Erin,” the Melbourne-based Herald Sun previously reported, citing a source close to him. “There were times he had felt ... a bit off and it coincided when he spent time with her.”

Police did not say what led to the charges now, only saying that homicide detectives carried out “an incredibly complex, methodical and thorough investigation.”

A search of Erin Patterson’s home using police dogs is ongoing, Victoria police Detective Inspector Dean Thomas said at a press conference.

According to The Age, Patterson told police in August that she threw away a food dehydrator after she was named a suspect in the deaths. Police recovered the device and performed forensic tests on it.

Patterson has repeatedly insisted on her innocence, tearfully telling reporters outside her home immediately after the deaths that she “can’t fathom what has happened.”

“I didn’t do anything,” she said at the time. “I loved them, and I’m devastated that they’re gone.”

Police said the victims’ symptoms were similar to those experienced by people who eat death cap mushrooms. The fungi are not native to Australia, but can be found in several Melbourne suburbs and nearby Victorian country towns, according to a website for the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

“It may be very innocent, but again, we just don’t know,” Thomas said in August. “But it’s really interesting, four people turn up and three of them have passed away with another one critical.”

Death cap mushrooms, formally called Amanita phalloides, are highly toxic even in small amounts, whether they are cooked, dried or consumed raw. They kill more people worldwide than any other foraged mushroom, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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