74070887-12383467-Erin_Patterson_is_pictured_arriving_home_to_a_waiting_media_pack-a-42_1691508958992.jpg

Who’s who in the Leongatha ‘poisonous mushrooms’ case:

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It is the unusual case that has shocked Australia and rocked a small tight-knit community to its core.

Three family members are dead, a fourth is fighting for life, and a fifth is a person of interest in a homicide investigation after poisonous mushrooms were dished up and served at a Saturday lunch. 

Erin Patterson, 48, invited her former parents-in-law Don and Gail Patterson, along with Gail’s sister Heather and her husband Ian, to a family gathering at her rural property in Victoria’s Gippsland region on July 29. 

All four guests fell ill after eating the meal – believed to be laced with highly toxic death cap mushrooms –  and went to hospital the following day. 

Don and Gail, both 70, and Heather, 66, have since died, while Ian, 68, is in a critical condition.  

Police are probing the ‘unexplained’ deaths and have questioned the chef, Erin, who has denied any wrongdoing and says she is ‘devastated’. 

Meanwhile, it has since emerged that Erin’s ex-husband Simon Patterson fell ill with a mystery stomach illness last year, from which he nearly died.

Police investigating the mysterious circumstances around the tragedy have also found a used dehydrator – which they believe may have been used while preparing the mushroom dish – dumped in a nearby tip.

Daily Mail Australia looks at the connections between those involved, their roles in the community, and what we know about the deadly lunch. 

Erin Patterson is pictured arriving home to a waiting media pack on Tuesday

Erin Patterson is pictured arriving home to a waiting media pack on Tuesday 

The above family tree shows the connections between the Pattersons and Wilkinsons embroiled in the unusual poisoning tragedy in Leongatha

Erin and Simon Patterson 

Erin Patterson, 48, was married to Simon, the son of Don and Gail Patterson. 

The pair, who share two kids, separated in recent years but, according to police, had an amicable relationship prior to the Pattersons’ deaths. 

Erin has been living at the Leongatha home where the luncheon was held while Simon is understood to be residing at another property.

According to property records, the Leongatha home was purchased in 2019 – although it remains unclear whether they bought it together. 

Daily Mail Australia understands Erin is a stay-at-home mum while Simon is employed in the property industry.

It was revealed on Tuesday that Simon ‘almost died’ in June 2022 after suffering from a mystery stomach illness that is still yet to be explained by his doctors.

‘I collapsed at home then was in an induced coma for 16 days through which I had three emergency operations mainly on my small intestine, plus an additional planned operation,’ he wrote.

‘My family were asked to come and say goodbye to me twice as I was not expected to live. 

‘I was in intensive care for 21 days, after which I was in the general ward for a week, and now I’m at a rehab place.’

Simon said treatments had ‘fixed the serious gut problems’ but he was left weak after spending such a long time in intensive care and was undergoing rehab so he could resume coaching with the Poowong Basketball Association.

Daily Mail Australia is not suggesting Erin was in anyway responsible for his illness or the three deaths.

The former couple used to run local newsletter the Burra Flyer after Erin took over the role as editor from Don and Gail in 2018. 

Simon worked for the newsletter as a photographer while his parents were in charge then, later, alongside his wife.

The last edition the husband and wife completed together was in early 2020, as the Covid pandemic hit. 

As the Pattersons handed over the torch to their son and daughter-in-law, Erin wrote a touching tribute to them in her first publication.

The deadly family gathering took place at Erin Patterson's home (pictured) in Leongatha, in Victoria's Gippsland region, on July 29

The deadly family gathering took place at Erin Patterson’s home (pictured) in Leongatha, in Victoria’s Gippsland region, on July 29

‘Thank you Don and Gail Patterson, the Flyer’s previous editors, for the enormous time and energy that they put into keeping the Burra Flyer going for the past five years,’ she said.

‘They are extraordinarily generous with their time and I am grateful for the support they have given to John and I to ensure a smooth changeover.

‘Thank you to the contributors and advertisers for their patience while we have been learning the ropes.

‘I hope we can do the Burra Flyer the justice it deserves.’ 

Police searched Erin’s Leongatha home on Saturday and seized a number of items used during preparation of the meal. 

A police source close to the investigation told The Age on Tuesday that a food dehydrator was also discovered at a nearby rubbish dump and is also believed to have been used during the lunch. 

Forensic testing is underway to find any traces of death cap mushroom.

Detectives were seen visiting Erin at the property on Sunday night. She was heard ‘wailing loudly’, according to 7News, before the officers left.

The following day, police announced she was being treated as a person of interest in the case.  

Speaking to reporters outside her home a short time later, an emotional Erin Patterson said she was devastated by what had happened and denied any wrongdoing.

‘I didn’t do anything,’ she said on Monday, wiping away tears. 

‘I loved them and I’m devastated that they’re gone.’

She then mistakenly confused Don with Ian by expressing her ‘hope’ that ‘Don pulls through’.

Erin said all four guests were wonderful people and had always treated her with kindness.  

The 2.5 acre Leongatha property (above) was purchased in 2019, it was described by the selling agents as a 'nature wonderland'

The 2.5 acre Leongatha property (above) was purchased in 2019, it was described by the selling agents as a ‘nature wonderland’

‘Gail was like the mum I didn’t have because my mum passed away four years ago and Gail had never been anything but good and kind to me,’ she continued.

‘Ian and Heather were some of the best people I’d ever met. They never did anything wrong to me.’

On Tuesday, reporters again approached Erin to seek clarity over the details of the lunch that she refused to answer the day before. 

However, the stay-at-home mum demanded reporters get off her property before eventually deciding to leave the home herself.

‘What happened is devastating and I’m grieving too and you guys don’t have any respect for that,’ she said. 

Erin was forced to navigate around a media scrum to enter her front door. 

‘Can I just get to my door, stop standing in front of me,’ she said. 

Erin refused to answer what dish she served her tragic guests, who are believed to have ingested poisonous mushrooms. 

A black dog rushed out of Erin’s home as she opened the front door, infuriating her further. 

‘You don’t have any permission to be on my private property or harass me,’ she said. 

‘This kind of behaviour will send someone right off a bridge.’

When asked ‘How she was going’ by a reporter, Erin stated the obvious. 

‘I’m going sh*thouse. Thanks for asking. You guys aren’t helping,’ she responded. 

Reporters were forced to jump Erin’s fence to leave the property after becoming stuck behind her large automated security gate. 

Moments later, Erin was seen loading a suitcase into the boot of her car and leaving.  

Gail Patterson

Don Patterson

Gail and Don Patterson died after eating the mushrooms. It’s understood that Erin was previously married to their son, Simon

Ian Wilkinson and Heather Wilkinson (both pictured) became severely ill after they ate wild mushrooms. Mrs Wilkinson died on Friday while her husband remains in a critical condition in hospital

Ian Wilkinson and Heather Wilkinson (both pictured) became severely ill after they ate wild mushrooms. Mrs Wilkinson died on Friday while her husband remains in a critical condition in hospital

The children

Erin and Simon share two children – a son and a daughter. The kids were present at the family lunch on July 29, however, they ate different meals to the adults.

Erin and the kids went to the hospital as a precaution after their other relatives fell ill but have not had any symptoms.

Victoria Police Detective Inspector for the Homicide Squad, Dean Thomas, said the children are ‘incredibly distressed’ and ‘doing the best they can’ following the shock deaths.

Gail and Don Patterson 

Gail and Don Patterson, both 70, were longstanding members of the Gippsland community, where they both worked at local high school Korumburra Secondary College.

When they began to feel ill after the meal at their daughter-in-law’s home, they went to a local hospital, where it was initially believed they had gastro. 

As their condition deteriorated, they were transferred to Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital where the toxins were detected in their system.

Gail and Heather died on Friday, before Don passed away on Saturday.

Korumburra residents Lee and Chris Clements worked alongside Gail and Don Patterson at Korumburra Secondary College.

‘My husband [Chris] and I worked with them for 20 years and it’s really devastating news,’ former colleague Lee Clements told the Herald Sun.

‘Gail was in the office and Don was a very dedicated science teacher and loved his astronomy.

Real estate photos show mushrooms growing at the base of a tree at Ms Patterson's Leongatha property

Real estate photos show mushrooms growing at the base of a tree at Ms Patterson’s Leongatha property 

Investigators say it is not yet known whether the matter is suspicious as they are still trying to establish the circumstances surrounding the case (pictured: foraged mushroom)

Investigators say it is not yet known whether the matter is suspicious as they are still trying to establish the circumstances surrounding the case (pictured: foraged mushroom)

‘They were very Christian and very lovely people. They would always say hello and acknowledge everyone.’

Ms Clements said the couple loved to travel and Don had recently visited China to further his religious studies. They also hosted a Chinese exchange student a few years ago.

She described Heather and Gail as being close.

Heather and Ian Wilkinson 

Ian Wilkinson was the pastor of Korumburra Baptist Church, while his wife Heather worked as a teacher’s aide at Komburra Secondary College. 

Local Lee Clements said Ian also ran a carpentry business. 

While Heather passed away on Friday, Mr Wilkinson remains in a critical condition at Melbourne’s Austin Hospital. 

The couple’s devastated four children are reportedly by his bedside hoping he makes a full recovery while he awaits a liver transplant. 

On Sunday, members of the church gathered for a service to pray for the deceased and for the recovery of their church leader. 

Local Baptist parishioners have also arranged an around-the-clock vigil for Mr Wilkinson and his family. 

‘For the family to know that no matter what hour of the day or night, there is someone up and praying for them,’ organiser Pam Atkinson told the ABC.

What do we know? 

Victoria Police Detective Inspector for the Homicide Squad, Dean Thomas, confirmed on Monday that Erin was being treated as a person of interest in the case.

However, he stressed that it was still early in the investigation and, although the homicide squad was investigating, it was still yet to be determine if the deaths should be treated as suspicious.

‘She [Erin] hasn’t presented with any symptoms but we have to keep an open mind in relation to this, that it could be very innocent but again we just don’t know at this point,’ he said. 

‘We work to try and determine what has gone on, whether there is any nefarious activity that has occurred or if it’s an accidental-type situation.’

Mr Thomas described the case as a ‘very, very complex matter’ and said detectives would be working with toxicologists and medical experts. 

Flowers have been left at the gate of the property as the community comes to terms with the tragedy

Flowers have been left at the gate of the property as the community comes to terms with the tragedy

It remains unclear whether Erin ate the same meal as the other adults.

While she has answered some reporters’ questions over the past two days, Erin has not responded when asked where the mushrooms came from, who picked them or what meal she made for her guests.

Detectives believe the mushrooms consumed by the Pattersons and Wilkinsons were death caps and have urged the public to be wary of consuming any mushrooms not purchased from a supermarket. 

Death caps are known to cause digestion problems – including nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting – and serious liver damage.

In April, the Victorian Department of Health issued a warning to residents about the dangers of Death Cap mushrooms and Yellow-staining mushrooms, which grow across the state in autumn.

Real estate photos taken in 2019 when the previous owner of the Leongatha home placed it on the market shows wild mushrooms growing beneath a tree on the property. It’s not suggested these were the mushrooms that were eaten.

Victorian health officials released the above alert in April amid concerns about poisonous mushrooms in the region

Victorian health officials released the above alert in April amid concerns about poisonous mushrooms in the region

Tributes flow 

Meanwhile, as locals mourn the trio, South Gippsland Shire mayor Nathan Hersey has remembered them as ‘well-loved’ members of the community. 

‘We have had a significant loss to the Korumburra community this week,’ he told the Today show on Monday.

‘Many people in our community are grieving the loss of three very important, much-loved, and very well-respected people.

‘It’s very hard in a tight-knit community, particularly when you have individuals who give back and give so much to the community.

‘It’s felt wide, far and wide, and I’m sure not just within South Gippsland and Korumburra, but further around our region as well.’ 

On Sunday, the Wilkinson and Patterson families released a joint statement, saying they were still coming to terms with their loss. 

‘The past week has been a time of shock and grief for us all,’ they told the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times on Sunday. 

‘They were parents, grandparents, siblings, children, and pillars of faith within our community.

‘Their love, steadfast faith, and selfless service have left an indelible mark on our families, the Korumburra Baptist Church, the local community, and indeed, people around the globe.

‘Our families will assist appropriate authorities in any way we can and respect any necessary processes amidst this tragedy.’

TIMELINE OF EVENTS 

Saturday, July 29

Don and Gail Patterson and Heather and Ian Wilkinson go to Erin Patterson’s Leongatha home for lunch.

Sunday, July 30

The four lunch guests present to hospital feeling ill. It is initially thought they have gastro. As their condition deteriorates, they are transferred to hospitals in Melbourne. 

Friday, August 4

Gail and Heather die in hospital.

Saturday, August 5

Don dies in hospital. Police search Erin Patterson’s home in Leongatha and seize a number of items.

Sunday, August 6

Police are seen returning to Erin’s home to question her. She is heard wailing loudly from inside the house before the four officers leave.

Monday, August 7 

Victoria Police Detective Inspector for the Homicide Squad, Dean Thomas, confirms Erin is being treated as a person of interest in the case.

However, he says the investigation is still in its early stages and it is yet to be determined if the deaths are suspicious. 

A short time later, Erin breaks her silence and speaks to reporters outside the home. She says she is devastated and ‘loves’ the four relatives who came to her home. She denies any wrongdoing but does not answer questions where the mushrooms came from, who picked them or what meal she made for her guests.

Tuesday, August 8

In a bizarre twist, Simon Patterson was to revealed to have suffered from a mysterious Stomach illness in June, 2022. He fell into a coma and was in ICU for 21 days. His case is yet to be explained by doctors.

Forensic testing is underway to find any traces of death cap mushroom on a food dehydrator that was discovered at a rubbish tip. Police believe it was used during preparation of the meal.

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