Erin Patterson, 48, served lunch to four people at Leongatha, a town 135 kilometres south-east of Melbourne on July 29, and was the daughter-in-law of one of the couples who died.
Don and Gail Patterson and her sister Heather Wilkinson died from symptoms consistent with death cap mushroom poisoning after the lunch, falling sick later that evening. Heather’s husband Ian, the pastor at Korumburra Baptist Church, also suffered from suspected poisoning and is in a critical condition at Melbourne’s Austin Hospital.
"I'm devastated that they're gone and I hope with every fibre of my being that [Ian] pulls through," she told A Current Affair reporter Sam Cucchiara while wiping away tears at her house on Monday.
"I didn't do anything. I love them," she said.
Woman a 'suspect' in the case
Homicide detectives have confirmed Ms Patterson is a suspect in the case. At a press conference on Monday, Homicide Squad Detective Inspector Dean Thomas said the woman had separated from her husband, though the police understood the relationship was still amicable.
On Saturday, August 5, investigators executed a search warrant of the residential address at Leongatha where the lunch was served and interviewed Ms Patterson that day. She was later released.
Inspector Thomas said the woman was a suspect because "she cooked those meals," but emphasised it was a "complex case" and "it could be very innocent".
"We have to keep an open mind," he said.
The homicide investigator said toxicology reports were being organised and there was a "lot of work to do” before the police could land on firm conclusions. He said the police were still unsure where the mushrooms had been sourced from. "We are presuming at this point it is mushrooms," he said.
Deaths are 'unexplained'
Inspector Thomas told 3AW "it’s a really interesting case" adding, at this stage "the deaths are really unexplained".
"We’re trying to get to the bottom of it, to understand what has actually occurred," he said. "What we do know is the four people – three who have passed away – attended a lunch in Leongatha on July 29.
"They had lunch then they left there, but about midnight on that Saturday night some of them started to fall ill".
During the course of the following day, all four people were admitted to either the Korumburra or Leongatha hospitals. Inspector Thomas said the group demonstrated food poisoning-type symptoms and were later taken to Austin Hospital. Inspector Thomas said they're still undecided whether they were investigating a crime or an accident.
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