Tragedy struck a family in Victoria on July 29 after they consumed poisonous mushrooms, leaving three people dead and one in critical condition. This incident not only raised alarms about the dangers of foraging wild mushrooms but brought homicide investigators to the scene. 

Local resident Erin Patterson prepared the mushroom-filled beef Wellington meal for her former in-laws, Don and Gail Patterson, and their relatives. Patterson told police that she had “absolutely no reason to hurt these people whom I love.” 

It’s reported that the mushroom responsible for the family’s deaths is Amanita phalloides, often called the Death Cap, a highly toxic variety of mushrooms that’s responsible for almost 90% of mushroom-related fatalities. Death caps have a mortality rate of up to 30%, making them one of the most lethal fungi in nature. How these deadly fungi wound up in a family lunch is what attracted police to investigate.

Police are still investigating, but Patterson’s former husband told authorities that he suspects Erin Patterson tried to poison him in the past when he came close to losing his life from suspicious gut problems in 2022. She recently told police that her ex-husband was planning to attend the lunch but changed his plans the previous day. 

Patterson reported feeling horrible stomach pains herself and went to the hospital until she was released. According to Patterson, she cooked the meal with store-bought button mushrooms and dried mushrooms she bought at an Asian grocer in Melbourne. 

According to police, Patterson’s children had left home to watch movies at a local cinema. Patterson said that her children ate the leftover beef Wellington but scraped off the mushrooms. They have not reportedly become ill. Recently, she admitted lying to police about dumping a food dehydrator which was found and is still being used as evidence in the investigation. 

Since the incident, Patterson has made several public remarks about the incident where she claims her innocence and says the media is on a witch hunt. Police have also expressed disapproval at the circulation of information about the case before they could do a proper investigation. 

The families of Don and Gail Patterson laid them to rest this month in a private ceremony. The Patterson family released a public statement on Wednesday for a memorial service in their honour on August 31. The family’s statement also said, “The Patterson family has expressed their deep gratitude for the outpouring of love, support, and understanding during this challenging time.”

Australia is home to a wide variety of mushroom species, some of which closely resemble poisonous counterparts like the death cap. The incident has caused health authorities to issue a strong warning against foraging for mushrooms, especially for people who are not experts. 

For those who still want to take on foraging, experts strongly recommend doing so only with a knowledgeable expert guide and to consult multiple sources for identification. Experts say that by only using spore prints, detailed guides, and expert advice can accidental mushroom foraging tragedies be avoided.