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'Does that make her a killer?': Ex-cop on the case against mushroom poisoning suspect

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 18 Aug 2023, 3:53pm

'Does that make her a killer?': Ex-cop on the case against mushroom poisoning suspect

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 18 Aug 2023, 3:53pm

After Erin Patterson’s statement to police was leaked to the media, the court of public opinion has been picking over the mysterious mushroom poisoning case and the 48-year-old’s role in serving the Beef Wellington dish that led to the deaths of her former parents-in-law and one of their friends.

But police are yet to lay any charges and say that are keeping an “open mind” into the three deaths as they continue their investigation.

Now a veteran Aussie homicide detective has weighed in on the case, cautioning armchair investigators that police would struggle to secure a conviction.

Charlie Bezzina told the Herald Sun that any case against Patterson would be circumstantial at best and her “chopping and changing” her story did not make her a killer.

Erin Patterson cooked a Beef Wellington pie for lunch at her home in Leongatha in Victoria on July 29.

Erin’s ex-in-laws, Don and Gail Patterson, and Gail’s sister Heather Wilkinson died after suffering symptoms consistent with poisoning by death cap mushroom.

Heather’s husband Ian Wilkinson remains in a critical condition in hospital.

Heather Wilkinson and pastor Ian Wilkinson. Photo / SuppliedHeather Wilkinson and pastor Ian Wilkinson. Photo / Supplied

Bezzina said that any potential motive for murder would be key to the case, adding that police would be looking closely see if Patterson had anything to gain from deaths of Don and Gail Patterson.

He also addressed suggestions that the lunch, which her former husband Simon Patterson had been due to attend, was organised by Erin Patterson in an effort to reconcile with him.

“You would look at the history of the family situation to see if there was any animosity ... is her motive that ‘they need to be removed so that I can reconcile with Simon again?’ Does that make her a killer, show motive and the reason for her poisoning them?

“Why would someone want to poison them in that way? Did she expect deaths or did she just expect illness but death resulted, which was an unintended consequence? You don’t know what was in her mind,” Bezzina told the Herald Sun.

He revealed that police would have four options.

“It’s either going to be a murder, manslaughter, intentionally or recklessly causing serious injury or an accident.”

He cited the final toxicology reports and any potential interview with Ian Wilkinson as central to the investigation, saying cops would be “champing at the bit” to speak to the survivor.

But even if toxicology proved that death cap mushrooms killed her guests, Bezzina said that serving them was not necessarily a crime.

“It’s how you then prove the intent, knowing that they were poisoned, knowing the consequences, and on it goes,” he said.

“My gut is they’ll go through all that, they’ll end up with a circumstantial brief of evidence ... and if it doesn’t get any better than that — even with all the inconsistencies — is that enough that a jury would convict? I would say no.”

Don Patterson and Gail Patterson, Erin's former parents-in-law, died following a suspected mushroom poisoning. Photo / SuppliedDon Patterson and Gail Patterson, Erin's former parents-in-law, died following a suspected mushroom poisoning. Photo / Supplied

An experienced fungi forager

Whether Erin Patterson knew she was serving up death cap mushrooms would be central to any potential case and this week on of her friend’s went public with information on her ability to identify fungi correctly.

According to the Daily Mail Australia, Erin Patterson was known to often and expertly pick wild mushrooms around Victoria’s Gippsland region.

A friend of Patterson’s family revealed Erin was “very good at foraging” and at identifying different mushroom varieties.

“The Patterson family (including Erin and estranged husband Simon) would pick mushrooms each year when they were in season,” the friend said.

“It’s very common for people to go mushroom picking around that area.”

No ‘evil witch’

Erin Patterson herself also spoke out this week to defend herself and take aim at media coverage of the case.

“I lost my parents-in-law, my children lost their grandparents. And I’ve been painted as an evil witch,” Patterson told The Australian.

“And the media is making it impossible for me to live in this town. I can’t have friends over,” she complained.

“The media is at the house where my children are at. The media are at my sister’s house so I can’t go there. This is unfair.’’

She also said she did not leak her police statement.

“I didn’t put any statement out,’’ Patterson told The Australian.

“I have no idea how it got out. I made a statement to the police.’’

The statement

Her written statement, first reported by the ABC, was provided to Victoria police last Friday and in it, she said she wants to “clear up the record” after the deaths of three people.

Media reported that police investigating the deaths had seized a food dehydrator at a local rubbish tip, which was reportedly dumped around the time the illnesses and deaths came to light.

However, Patterson admitted she lied to police by originally claiming she had dumped it “a long time ago”, the ABC reported.

She now claims she was at the hospital with her children “discussing the food dehydrator” when her estranged husband Simon Patterson asked: “Is that what you used to poison them?”

A source close to the family has claimed Erin Patterson tried to poison her ex-husband Simon Patterson in 2022. Simon revealed he was in a coma after a mystery stomach illness.A source close to the family has claimed Erin Patterson tried to poison her ex-husband Simon Patterson in 2022. Simon revealed he was in a coma after a mystery stomach illness.

Erin Patterson said she had panicked and dumped the dehydrator, worried she might lose custody of her children.

In the statement, she also claims she spent time in hospital after eating the deadly meal. She also claimed her children were not at the lunch, and were instead at the movies.

She then went on to claim they ate leftovers the next day. She also claimed she and her children don’t like mushrooms so they scraped them out.

She also detailed how she served the meal and allowed the guests to choose their own plates. She then took the last plate and ate a serving of the Beef Wellington.

It had not been previously reported that she was also hospitalised after the lunch with bad stomach pains and diarrhoea, and was put on a saline drip and given a “liver protective drug”.

She said she was transported by ambulance from the Leongatha Hospital to the Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne on July 31.

Patterson continued to deny any wrongdoing in the police statement and still has no idea how the Beef Wellington killed her guests.

“I now very much regret not answering some [police] questions following this advice given the nightmare that this process has become.”

According to Patterson, the media’s coverage was wrong and biased, and as a result, she was inadvertently but purposely painted as the perpetrator rather than the innocent party.

“I am hoping this statement might help in some way. I believe if people understood the background more, they would not be so quick to rush to judgment.”

The mushrooms

In her police statement, Erin Patterson said the fungi used in the dish were a mixture of button mushrooms bought at a supermarket chain and dried ones from an Asian grocery store in Melbourne months prior.

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

The Herald Sun asked Victoria’s Health Department if Patterson’s claims had resulted in any recalls of mushrooms in Victoria.

The only recall related to enoki mushrooms sold with incorrect use-by dates.

The newspaper visited 11 Asian grocery stores in the area, who all reassured customers that none of their mushroom products has been recalled.

The Australian Mushroom Growers Association also released a statement on Tuesday.

“Given the recent focus on mushrooms, the AMGA feels it necessary to inform the public that commercially grown mushrooms, produced in Australia, are safe and high quality.

“If you want safe mushrooms, buy fresh, Australian-grown mushrooms.”

The statement was headed: “The only poisonous mushrooms are those picked in the wild”.

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