The deaths of three elderly individuals who reportedly consumed poisonous mushrooms during lunch two weeks ago have prompted an investigation by Australian police.
The three mystery deaths have captivated Australia, and curiosity has grown since police on August 9 searched a nearby waste facility for a dehydrator they suspect was used to make the poisonous meal.
The dinner host, Erin Patterson, 48, was reportedly questioned by police on August 6 before being let go without being charged.
Gail and Don Patterson, the woman's in-laws, had been staying with her. The couple, who were both 70 years old, passed away after the meal on July 29 in Leongatha, according to reports in the local media and police on August 10.
The lunch was also attended by Gail's sister 66-year-old Heather Wilkinson, who died after the meal, and her husband Ian Wilkinson, 68, a Baptist pastor who is still in the hospital this week in critical condition.
Detectives were told that although Erin, who made the lunch, was divorced from her husband, they still got along well. According to the police, even though her children were present at home for lunch, they didn't appear to have eaten the same thing.
The visitors' symptoms were similar to those of a death cap, a particularly lethal variety of mushrooms, according to Victoria Police Detective Inspector Dean Thomas, even though it was unknown what sort of mushrooms they had eaten. Thomas noted on August 7 that the investigation is expected to take some time, given the complexity of the problem.
"Gail was the mum I didn't have. They were some of the best people I've ever known... I'm devastated they are gone," said Erin Patterson.
"This support extends not only to those we have tragically lost but also to our family member who continues to bravely fight for his life in the hospital."- Patterson family
In Australia, where many types of mushrooms, including the deadly "death cap," exist, death from eating mushrooms is uncommon. Health professionals around the nation have issued caution not to collect poisonous mushrooms and to only buy them from trustworthy vendors as a result of the three fatalities.
- BBC. Mushroom poisoning deaths: Family lunch mystery grips Australia.
- Better Health Channel. Mushroom poisoning.