Australian police have brought murder charges against a woman who served a lunch earlier this year that led to the deaths of three people from suspected death cap mushroom poisoning.
Victoria Police confirmed a 49-year-old woman was charged with three counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder after being arrested in connection with the case Thursday morning.
Local media, including CNN regional affiliates and national broadcaster ABC, identified the woman as Erin Patterson, 49, who police have previously identified as the person who cooked and served the meal that ended in the deaths. When asked to confirm the woman’s identity, Victoria Police declined to comment.
CNN affiliate Nine News said Ms. Patterson was arrested at her home in the town of Leongatha in southern Victoria.
Detective Inspector Dean Thomas described the charges as the “next step” in a long investigation.
“Over the last three months, this investigation has been subjected to incredibly intense levels of public scrutiny and curiosity. I cannot think of another investigation that has generated this level of media and public interest, not only here in Victoria but also nationally and internationally,” he said in a statement issued by Victoria Police Thursday.
“I think it is particularly important that we keep in mind that at the heart of this, three people have lost their lives. These are three people who by all accounts were much beloved in their communities and are greatly missed by their loved ones,” Mr. Thomas added.
Ms. Patterson served a beef Wellington meal in late July to her former parents-in-law and her mother-in-law’s sister and husband, who were guests at her home in Leongatha, according to police.
Just days after the meal, her former mother-in law Gail Patterson, 70, Gail’s sister Heather Wilkinson, 66, and Gail’s 70-year-old husband Don died in hospital.
A fourth attendee, 68-year-old reverend Ian Wilkinson, was left critically ill and reportedly in need of a liver transplant but made enough of a recovery to leave Melbourne’s Austin hospital in September.
Ms. Patterson has previously denied any wrongdoing, telling local media she had no idea the mushrooms she used in the recipe were dangerous.
“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,” Ms. Patterson said in statement she gave to police, cited by public broadcaster ABC.
In the same statement she claimed she bought the mushrooms used in the meal from two separate stores.
When news of the investigation emerged in early August, Detective Inspector Dean Thomas with the Victoria Police homicide squad said Ms. Patterson was a suspect because she cooked the meal, and was the only adult at the lunch who didn’t fall ill.
The symptoms suffered by Ms. Patterson’s guests were consistent with poisoning by death cap mushrooms (Amanita phalloides), Mr. Thomas said in August, though no toxicology reports to show exactly what they consumed have yet been made public.
He said Ms. Patterson had separated from her husband, Simon, whose parents died after the meal, but described their relationship as “amicable.”
“We have to keep an open mind in relation to this. It could be very innocent,” Mr. Thomas said at the time. “But again, we just don’t know at this point … four people turn up and three of them pass away, with another one critical, so we have to work through this.”
A search warrant has been executed at the Gibson Street address where the woman was arrested, including the use of technology detector dogs from the Australian Federal Police, Victoria Police said in a statement.
Following the arrest, the investigation remains ongoing, police 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,” Mr. Thomas said in the statement issued by Victoria Police Thursday.
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