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Cook at center of mushroom mystery gives account of fatal meal

May 15, 2024

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 drawn attention in Australia and across the world, had 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 Patterson sent to police 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 a 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.

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

In the statement, Patterson said she bought the mushrooms at a major supermarket chain and an Asian grocery store in Melbourne, a large city near Leongatha, according to ABC. She also said that 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.”

Leongatha health authorities and the Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne, where she said she was transported, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

NBC News has asked Patterson’s lawyers for a copy of her statement.

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

Police have said 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 been confirmed. Her home was searched a week after the lunch, and Patterson was interviewed by homicide investigators and released pending further inquiries.

Detective Inspector Dean Thomas told reporters last week that authorities were keeping “an open mind” about what happened, awaiting toxicology test results that could take quite some time. While no charges have been brought, Patterson is a suspect, Thomas said, because she 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 gone to the movies before the meal was served and instead ate the leftovers from the lunch the next night. But as her children do not like mushrooms, she scraped them off, she said.

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

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

She also said 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.

Patterson admitted in the statement that she lied when she told investigators 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 and that the deaths are still being treated as unexplained.

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

CORRECTION (Aug. 15, 2023, 2:28 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the way Erin Patterson said she arrived at Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne. She said she was transported there by ambulance, not airlifted.

Yuliya Talmazan is a London-based journalist.

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