A Woman Allegedly Killed Her In-Laws With Poisonous Death Cap Mushrooms

A deadly incident in Australia has prompted an investigation by Victoria Police. On July 29, Erin Patterson served her in-laws and her mother-in-law's sister and husband a meal that resulted in the death of three of the house guests. Though not confirmed, police suspect the deaths, which were allegedly caused by the consumption of death cap mushrooms, might be the result of homicide. The deceased include 70-year-old Gail Patterson, her 70-year-old husband Don, and 66-year-old Heather Wilkinson. Another victim, Wilkinson's 68-year-old husband, Ian, is in the hospital in need of a liver transplant. Erin Patterson is determined to defend herself, claiming she never intended to poison her family.

According to Dr. Michael Taylor of Flinders University, it only takes half of an average-sized death cap mushroom to potentially cause death. Dr. Ian Musgrave of the University of Adelaide says a large amount can cause the liver and kidneys to fail within a week. Though eating wild mushrooms is never a good idea, death cap mushrooms are the cause of 90% of mushroom-related fatalities. They can be mistaken for other varieties, so it's key to learn how to safely hunt for mushrooms.

Suspect claims the incident was accidental

According to suspect Erin Patterson, the mushroom poisoning was entirely accidental. "I'm devastated. I loved them. And I can't believe that this has happened, and I'm so sorry," she said during a recent interview. The in-laws killed and injured by the incident were the family members of her ex-husband, Simon. She remained close to them after the separation. Of the individuals present during the meal, Patterson and her two children were the only ones spared from sickness. The children didn't consume the same lunch as the adults. However, Patterson did, which is the primary reason she's suspected of murder.

This is far from the first time these fungi have caused devastation across Australia. Four people died in 2002, two people died in 2012, and four more became sick in 2014. From spring 2018 to 2019, around 900 individuals called poison centers after consuming unknown mushrooms, and in 2021, three people were hospitalized as a direct result of death caps.

Because it's hard to distinguish poisonous mushrooms from safe ones, it's best to keep your pets and children away from them, don't pick them without gloves, and don't make the mistake of cooking them. As of now, Erin Patterson has not been charged.