Cook at center of mushroom mystery gives account of fatal meal

The woman who cooked and served a meal that is believed to have killed three people and left another fighting for his life has spoken out to give her version of events.

Erin Patterson, at the center of the deadly mystery that has garnered attention in Australia and across the world, had previously declined to answer questions from homicide detectives or the media about many of the details in the suspected death cap mushroom poisoning.

But on Monday Australia’s national broadcaster, ABC, published what it said was a written statement sent to police by Patterson on Friday, in which she gives her first detailed account of the fatal family lunch in a quiet town that has sparked rampant speculation. 

Police told NBC News that they continue to investigate the deaths of Patterson’s former in-laws, Gail Patterson, 70 and her husband, Don, 70, as well as Gail’s sister Heather Wilkinson, 66. All three were taken to hospital with symptoms of food poisoning the day after they ate the meal at Patterson’s home in the small town of Leongatha, in the southern state of Victoria, on July 29. All three died a few days later.

Erin Patterson said that she prepared a meal of beef Wellington for herself and her guests, allowing them to choose their own plates.
Erin Patterson said that she prepared a meal of beef Wellington for herself and her guests, allowing them to choose their own plates.Seven Network Australia

Heather Wilkinson’s husband, Ian, 66, who also attended the meal, is still in hospital in a critical, but stable condition, his family said in a statement Sunday.

In the statement, Patterson said she bought the mushrooms she used to cook the meal at a major supermarket chain and an Asian grocery store in Melbourne, a large city near Leongatha, according to ABC. She also said she ate the meal herself and that it had landed her in hospital with bad stomach pains and diarrhea, ABC reported. Police said last week that she did not present with any symptoms. 

“I am now devastated to think that these mushrooms may have contributed to the illness suffered by my loved ones,” Patterson said in her statement, according to ABC. “I really want to repeat that I had absolutely no reason to hurt these people whom I loved,” she added. 

NBC News has reached out to Leongatha health authorities and the Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne, where she said she was airlifted, for comment. 

NBC News has also reached out to Patterson’s lawyers for a copy of her statement. 

Speaking to reporters outside her home in the town of Leongatha last week, a tearful Patterson said she was “devastated” by the deaths. “I didn’t do anything,” she said at the time. 

Police have previously said that all four of Patterson’s guests showed symptoms consistent with poisoning by death cap mushrooms, a particularly deadly variety, although the official cause of death has not yet been confirmed. Her home was searched a week after the lunch took place, and Patterson was interviewed by homicide investigators, but was released pending further inquiries.  

Detective Inspector Dean Thomas told reporters last week that they were keeping “an open mind” about what happened, awaiting toxicology test results that could take quite some time. While no charges have been laid, Patterson is a suspect, Thomas said, because she is the one who cooked the meal that proved deadly.  

In her statement, Patterson said that she prepared a meal of beef Wellington for herself and her guests. She said she served the meal and allowed the guests to choose their own plates, and then took the last plate and ate a serving herself.

She said her children, who were originally believed to have been at the lunch but not eaten anything, had actually gone to the movies prior to the meal being served, and instead ate the leftovers from the lunch the following night. But as her children do not like mushrooms, she scraped them off, according to her statement. 

Last week, police said the two children did not have any symptoms because investigators believed their meals may have been different to those consumed by others. 

When her guests fell violently ill, Patterson said she preserved what was left of the lunch and gave it to hospital toxicologists for examination, according to the statement. 

She also said that her estranged husband Simon, the son of the couple that died, intended to join the fatal lunch but told her “prior to the day” that he would not be attending. 

In the statement, Patterson admitted that she lied to investigators when she told them she had dumped a food dehydrator at a local dump “a long time ago.” She said she was at the hospital with her children “discussing the food dehydrator” when her ex-husband asked: “Is that what you used to poison them?”

She panicked and dumped the dehydrator at the dump, her statement said. 

Victoria police said Monday that there were no updates on the investigation, and the deaths are still being treated as unexplained. 

In a separate email to NBC News, police said Patterson’s statement published on Monday was not a police statement “taken by investigators,” but one she appears to have provided to her legal council. “We have not released any statement and won’t be doing so,” a Victoria Police media officer said in the email.

Yuliya Talmazan

Yuliya Talmazan is a London-based journalist.

Bianca Britton

Bianca Britton is a reporter for NBC News’ Social Newsgathering team based in London.

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