The Australian woman who cooked a meal of beef Wellington that contained mushrooms that is believed to have killed three in-laws says she bought the fungi both at a supermarket and an unidentfied Asian grocery in Melbourne, and was herself hospitalized after eating the meal. She could not recall the exact location of the Asian grocery where she bought dried mushrooms, she said in a written statement sent to Victoria police.
In a written statement sent to Victoria Police on Friday – and obtained exclusively by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation- Gippsland woman Erin Patterson has given her first detailed account of what transpired before and after the fatal lunch.
“I am now wanting to clear up the record because I have become extremely stressed and overwhelmed by the deaths of my loved ones,” Patterson said.
“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 judgement.
“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.”
Patterson’s mother and father-in-law, Don and Gail Patterson, died after eating lunch at Patterson’s home in Leongatha, a town south-east of Melbourne, on 29 July.
Gail Patterson’s sister, Heather Wilkinson, also died, and her husband Ian Wilkinson was left in a critical condition.
Speculation has swirled in the fortnight since the shocking events in the small South Gippsland community, and has only intensified as police remain tight-lipped about the status of their investigation.
Police have said the people who fell ill and died displayed symptoms of having eaten death cap mushrooms, and last week said Patterson was being treated as a suspect but that investigators were keeping an open mind.
In the statement, Patterson said advice she received immediately after the deaths was to give a “no comment” interview to police, which she said she now regretted.
“I now very much regret not answering some questions following this advice given the nightmare that this process has become,” she said.
Patterson said she found the police interview “terrifying and anxiety-provoking”.
She said that on the day of the lunch, she prepared a meal of beef wellington for herself and her four elderly guests.
Contrary to initial reports from police, who said Patterson’s children were present but did not eat the meal, Patterson said the children had actually gone to the movies prior to lunch.
According to her statement, Patterson served the meal and allowed the guests to choose their own plates. She then took the last plate and ate a serve of the beef wellington herself.
Patterson said the mushrooms were a mixture of button mushrooms purchased at a major supermarket chain, and dried mushrooms bought at an Asian grocery store in Melbourne months previously.
The Patterson children ate the leftovers from the lunch the following night. However, Patterson said the children do not like mushrooms, so she scraped them off the meal.
Patterson said 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 31 July.
The Gippsland Southern Health Service confirmed a fifth person who presented at Leongatha Hospital on 30 July with suspected food poisoning later returned and was sent to Monash.
As her guests fell critically ill, Patterson said she was contacted by the Department of Health and asked what might have caused the violent reaction to the meal.
She said she preserved what was left of the lunch and gave it to hospital toxicologists for examination. She said she told investigators from the department where she had bought the mushrooms – although was unable to identify the specific shop in Melbourne where she bought the dried fungi.
Patterson said officials from the Department later sent her photographs of packs of mushrooms with hand-written labels, similar to those she described to them.
The ABC has contacted the Department of Health.
Patterson also addressed media reports that police investigating the deaths had seized a food dehydrator at a local tip, saying it was hers.
In the statement, Patterson admitted she lied to investigators when she told them she had dumped it at the tip “a long time ago”.
Patterson said she was at the hospital with her children “discussing the food hydrator” when her ex-husband, the son of the dead couple, asked: “Is that what you used to poison them?”
Worried that she might lose custody of the couple’s children, Patterson said she then panicked and dumped the dehydrator at the tip.
Patterson alluded to media speculation about the fact her estranged husband, Simon Patterson, reportedly spent a fortnight in hospital in May last year with a severe stomach illness unrelated to the current incident.
In her statement, Patterson said she “reluctantly” agreed to nurse Simon Patterson for three weeks after he was discharged from hospital, before telling him that she did not want to reconcile with him.
Patterson said her estranged husband intended joining the fatal lunch, but told her “prior to the day” that he would not be attending.
She paid tribute to her parents-in-law, saying she had been close to them for a long time and had maintained a positive relationship even after her marriage breakdown.
“I had been close with Simon’s parents for a long period of time. Our relationship had continued in a fairly amicable way after I finished the relationship with their son Simon,” she said.
“Our relationship was affected to some degree by seeing them less after my marriage breakdown with Simon however I have never felt differently towards his parents.
“I had a deep love and respect for Simon’s parents and had encouraged my children to spend time with their grandparents as I believed they were exceptional role models.”
A representative for Simon Patterson declined to comment.
Police are continuing their investigation into the deaths, and Patterson said she was willing to assist police, potentially to the extent of being re-interviewed.
Source: Australian Broadcasting Corporation.