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Woman arrested in connection with mushroom poisoning deaths in Australia


A woman was arrested in connection with the deaths of three Australians who are assumed to have died because of mushroom poisoning, the Victoria Police Department said in a statement Wednesday.

The arrest is the latest in a monthslong investigation into the July deaths, which happened after a party in the small town of Leongatha.

Police did not name the 49-year-old woman who was arrested.

Four people were hospitalized July 30 after a family lunch at a home in Leongatha.

Three of the guests — Gail Patterson, 70; her husband, Don, 70; and her sister Heather Wilkinson, 66 — died at a Melbourne hospital in the days after the lunch event.

A fourth guest, Heather Wilkinson’s husband, Ian, 69, was in the hospital for weeks. Victoria police said he was released Sept. 23.

The chef and host, Erin Patterson, and her two children were at the meal, and none of them became sick.

The Associated Press has reported that the police believe the kids were served a different meal from the rest of the party.

Patterson was released without charges pending further inquiries in August. Police said at the time that they searched her home and took items for testing.

“I didn’t do anything,” Patterson told reporters at the time. She added that the victims were “some of the best people I’ve ever met” and described her mother-in-law as “the mom I didn’t have.”

She said then that she was “devastated” by the deaths.

But she refused to answer questions about the mushrooms she served for lunch or their origin or about which guests received which meals.

At the time of the incident, police said all four guests showed signs consistent with poisoning by death cap mushrooms — a particularly deadly variety — which the Victoria health department said are “extremely poisonous” to humans and animals.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.