Australia gripped by a mystery surrounding mushroom-related poisoning deaths

Five people sat down for a family meal in a small Australian town two Saturdays ago.

Within a week, three would be deceased, one would be battling for his life, and the fifth would be under investigation for possibly poisoning her guests with wild mushrooms.

However, the 48-year-old woman who prepared the meal claims she is unaware of what transpired and that she loves her family and would never harm them. The unusual case has attracted national attention, baffled law enforcement, and shaken a close-knit community.

Gail and Don Patterson stopped for lunch at their daughter-in-law Erin Patterson's home in Leongatha with their grandchildren. With them were Heather, Gail's sister, and her spouse Ian Wilkinson.

All four were well-liked residents of the adjacent town of Korumburra, where Ian served as pastor of the local Baptist congregation. All four guests went to the local hospital hours after the meal with what they initially believed to be acute gastro.

They were transferred to a Melbourne hospital to receive the finest medical care the state had to offer after it became apparent that their condition was far more serious. 

Gail, 70 and Heather, 66 both passed away on Friday, whereas Don, 70, died on Saturday. The 68-year-old Ian however remains hospitalized in critical health, awaiting a liver transplant.

The police believe that the four consumed death cap mushrooms, which are highly lethal if consumed. However, Erin and her two children are doing well.

Police report that both children, who have since been placed in "precautionary" state custody, ate different meals. However, little else is evident. The investigators are uncertain as to whether or not Erin consumed the same food as her visitors, or even if mushrooms were included in the dish she served.

They also mentioned that she had separated from her spouse, who is the Pattersons' son, but described the split as "amicable." However, "malicious activity" cannot yet be ruled out. It could be completely harmless, but we simply do not know.

Ms. Patterson mentioned that she cannot comprehend what has occurred. She refused to answer queries about what meals were served to which guests and where the mushrooms came from as she wept while speaking to reporters outside her residence. She did assert her innocence.

People are in mourning and extreme sadness. In a statement, the families of the victims hailed them as "pillars of faith" in the community.

A statement that was published by the locals read, “Their love, unwavering faith, and selfless service have left an indelible mark on our families, the Korumburra Baptist Church, the local community, and, in fact, people all over the globe” 

Erin is distraught as well. "Gail was the mother I never had... "I have lost my own children's grandmother," she said. It is not the first time Victoria has been devastated by mushroom poisonings, and as mushroom foraging grows in popularity, death caps are increasingly misidentified as edible mushrooms.

They are found in mild, humid climates all over the world and have a much more innocent appearance than many other dangerous species.

A coin-sized piece is sufficient to murder an adult and is responsible for 90 percent of fatal mushroom poisonings worldwide.