Homicide squad investigates ‘unexplained’ deaths from poisonous mushroom lunch
7th August 2023

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Homicide squad detectives have questioned the person who is believed to have cooked the meal that led to the deaths of three people in Victoria’s south-east, but investigators are still unsure whether the poisonous mushroom lunch was an accident or a crime.

Korumburra pastor Ian Wilkinson and his wife, Heather, along with her sister and brother-in-law Gail and Don Patterson, became ill after eating lunch at a home in the nearby town of Leongatha on July 29.

Heather Wilkinson, 66, and Gail Patterson, 70, both died in hospital on Friday, while Don Patterson, 70, died on Saturday night. Ian Wilkinson, 68, was in a critical condition at The Alfred hospital on Monday.

“At this stage, I can say that the deaths are really unexplained,” homicide squad Detective Inspector Dean Thomas said on Monday.

“We work to try and determine what has gone on to see if there is any nefarious activity that’s occurred, or if it’s … in this case … an accidental-type situation where these people have passed away from some form of poisoning, you know, not at the hands of somebody else. So, we don’t know yet.”

Korumburra wild mushroom poisoning victims Ian and Heather Wilkinson.

Thomas told 3AW radio the investigation was very complex.

“We will be working closely with medical experts, toxicologists … in the hope we can understand exactly what has gone on and provide some answers to the family.“

Thomas said that the person who had cooked the meal was also present at the lunch – as were several children.

The children did not eat the meal, and police were still unsure whether the person who prepared the meal had eaten it or not.

“The four patients had ended up in the Austin hospital, three of which have passed away, and then there was another person present who prepared the meal and whose address they attended for the meal, and they did not become ill,” Thomas said.

”As far as we know, at this stage, there is nothing to suggest they became ill. And obviously, on Saturday we executed a search warrant at the home address in Leongatha where the lunch took place, and we conducted an interview with that person, so our investigation is continuing.
“We’re trying to understand who ate what at the lunch, whether that person that did not become ill did or did not eat the mushrooms … And of course, we’re trying to ascertain what it is that has actually caused the poisoning … to the four people that attended.″⁣

Thomas said police had not investigated a similar case in recent times.
“…The message I’d like to get across is … be very cautious if you’re picking mushrooms out there. You don’t know what it is that you could be eating, whether they are poisonous or not,” he said.

More to come.

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