Erin Patterson faces court over alleged deadly mushroom murder plot
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The Leongatha woman accused of lacing a winter’s lunch with poisonous mushrooms that killed three former family members, and almost claimed the life of a fourth, has faced court also charged with attempting to murder her estranged husband four times.
That man, Simon Patterson, was meant to be at the allegedly fatal lunch on July 29 this year but did not attend.
Court sketch of Erin Patterson, 49, who appeared in Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court.Credit: Anita Lester
Court documents released to the media on Friday allege 49-year-old Erin Trudi Patterson attempted to murder her former partner four times between November 16, 2021, and July 29 this year when a beef Wellington was ultimately served to the final family gathering.
Patterson appeared in Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court for the first time on Friday in a glass-screened dock and flanked by two security guards after being charged with three counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder.
She wore a beige jumper and greeted the magistrate with a nod and “morning”. She was without the support of family or friends but could be seen briefly glancing around the courtroom at times during the short hearing.
The court heard that police would need extra time to prepare their case because they needed to analyse computer material seized during a search of Patterson’s Leongatha home on Thursday.
Erin Patterson’s lawyer, Bill Doogue, outside court.Credit: Chris Hopkins
Magistrate Tim Walsh said he felt it was important for the matter to progress as quickly as possible and not to “languish for too long”.
“Twenty weeks to analyse computer data, when the informant was confident they had enough evidence to charge this lady yesterday?” he said. “I imagine materials are going to be voluminous.”
Patterson’s lawyer, Bill Doogue, consented to the delay.
“It seems to be based on a lot of analysis that we haven’t received and hasn’t even been completed, which is why they’re asking for extra time … we’ve been involved for a while,” Doogue said.
“It’s likely to be a committal, and it could well go for a very long time.”
Patterson was remanded to reappear in court in May.
Walsh noted the large media contingent in his courtroom, before reminding Patterson that he did not have the power to hear bail hearings for people accused of murder. The Supreme Court would need to hear such an application at a later date.
“I don’t have the power … I direct the brief of evidence against you to be served on your solicitor’s office by no later than the 25th of March,” Walsh said.
“What normally happens there is you have to apply for permission to cross-examine witnesses. If a committal [hearing] is going to take a long time and can’t be timetabled … we may well send the matter down to Melbourne.”
Don Patterson, Gail Patterson, Heather Wilkinson and Ian Wilkinson were poisoned by the mushroom meal.
Doogue said the defence and prosecution agreed to the matter being moved to a Melbourne court next year, but Walsh disagreed, ordering Patterson to appear at Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court via video link in May.
The murder charges and two of the five attempted murder charges related to the mushroom meal served in Leongatha on July 29, Victoria Police said on Thursday.
Patterson’s former in-laws, Don Patterson, 70, and Gail Patterson, 70, as well as Gail’s sister, Heather Wilkinson, 66, all died in hospital days after the lunch, where beef Wellington was served. Heather’s husband, 68-year-old Baptist pastor Ian Wilkinson, was released from the Austin Hospital after seven weeks of treatment – most of which he spent in a coma.
Charge sheets released to the media show police allege she also attempted to murder her former husband on at least four separate occasions.
Police allege those attempts occurred between November 16 and 17 in 2021, between May 25 and 27 in 2022, on September 6 in 2022, and on July 29 in 2023.
Police allege that the poisoning was caused by death cap mushrooms. The death cap is responsible for 90 per cent of mushroom-poisoning deaths. One bite can be enough to kill someone, causing severe gastroenteritis and eventually organ failure.
On Thursday, detectives spent several hours searching Patterson’s sprawling Leongatha property where the allegedly fatal lunch was served in July. They searched the home with specialist dogs trained to sniff out phones, laptops, SIM cards and USB sticks. The canines can detect unique odours excreted by electronic devices.
Investigators searched Patterson’s car, the home’s garage, outdoor furniture, and a meter box located on the back deck. An armchair and bushes close to the house received particularly close attention from the dogs.
A source with knowledge of the search but not authorised to speak publicly said the highly trained canines included the Australian Federal Police’s top electronics sniffer dog, Georgia, who was flown down from Queensland.
Patterson, whose home was also searched in August, had already handed over her mobile phone to police for examination shortly after detectives began investigating the deaths.
Her estranged partner also provided his phone to investigators more than a month ago, a source with knowledge of the investigation said.
Detectives were seen bagging evidence collected from the property and storing it in an unmarked police car parked in the driveway.
About 2pm, officers quietly ushered Patterson to a second police vehicle and drove her 30 minutes south-west of Leongatha to Wonthaggi’s 24-hour police station for questioning. She had yet to be charged at that stage.
Curious locals gathered outside the station holding their phones, hoping to get a glimpse of the woman at the centre of South Gippsland’s biggest mystery in decades.
Scores of journalists, TV crews and photographers camped out on the nature strip outside the building, awaiting an update from investigators.
Homicide squad Detective Inspector Dean Thomas said on Thursday that Patterson’s arrest was the next step in a complex and thorough investigation. “Over the last three months … this investigation has been subjected to incredibly intense levels of public scrutiny and curiosity,” he said.
“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.”
Thomas said that while police wanted to provide timely updates about the matter, it was critical that it was done in a way that did not adversely impact the investigation or any future processes.
“I think it’s particularly important that we keep in mind that at the heart of this, three people have lost their lives,” he said. “These are three people who, by all accounts, were much beloved in their communities and are greatly missed by their loved ones.”
Reporters wait outside the Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court in Morwell on Friday morning. Credit: Chris Hopkins
Police had previously named Patterson as a suspect because she cooked the meal suspected of poisoning the group. She strenuously denied wrongdoing and said she could not explain how the meal could have caused the group’s illnesses and deaths.
In a statement provided to the police documenting her version of events, Patterson said she had purchased the mushrooms from an Asian grocery store several months before the lunch and mixed them with button mushrooms from a local supermarket.
Patterson claimed she had also eaten the meal and had gastro-like symptoms, but that they subsided after she was given a liver-protecting drug in hospital. The mother of two said she had scraped the mushrooms off the dish and fed the leftovers to her children, who did not fall ill.
In the statement, Patterson also admitted she had intentionally dumped a food dehydrator found by police in a skip at the Koonwarra Transfer Station, after being accused of intentionally poisoning the meal.
Police have conducted forensic testing of the dehydrator but have not released the results. Investigators interviewed Patterson in the days after the lunch but released her without charge.
“In smaller communities such as Leongatha and Korumburra a tragedy such as this can reverberate for years to come,” Thomas said on Thursday.
“I encourage people to be particularly mindful of unnecessary speculation and the sharing of misinformation … at the heart of these matters are the recent deaths of three people, and families and loved ones who are trying to come to terms with this.”
After news of the deadly lunch in August, Korumburra was abuzz with talk about the tragedy and Patterson’s alleged involvement.
As journalists descended on the tight-knit town, locals went quiet, choosing to remain tight-lipped out of respect for the families.
But on Friday morning, as Patterson waited to appear in court for the first time, the case once again became the talk of the town.
“The whole town is talking again,” said a local, who did not want to be identified.
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