An Australian woman appeared in court Friday accused of murdering her inlaws with a toxic mushroom lunch and attempting to kill her estranged husband four times.

Erin Patterson, 49, is charged with three counts of murder for allegedly dishing up a poisonous beef Wellington that killed her parents-in-law and a third lunch guest, the wife of a local pastor.

Police have previously suggested the crusted beef fillet was laced with death cap mushrooms.

Patterson, a former newsletter editor, was taken into custody this week following a headline-grabbing, three-month investigation. 

The alleged triple murder has rocked the sedate farming town of Leongatha, about two hours' drive southeast of Melbourne.

Leongatha is better known for its medieval society's re-enactments and its annual daffodil festival.

Patterson has also been charged with repeatedly trying to murder her estranged husband Simon Patterson, who was identified in police charge sheets released to the media on Friday.

Police said Simon Patterson "became ill after meals" on separate occasions in 2021 and 2022, and have charged Erin Patterson with four counts of attempted murder. 

The 49-year-old was flanked by guards as she made her first appearance in Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court on Friday morning.

She wore a beige jersey and appeared composed throughout the brief administrative hearing.

Patterson will return to court in May 2024 after police secured a 20-week adjournment so that detectives have enough time to comb through computers seized from her house. 

Patterson allegedly cooked the beef Wellington in late July, serving her estranged parents-in-law Don and Gail Patterson, both 70, as well as local Baptist pastor Ian Wilkinson, 69, and his wife Heather, 66.

The two couples allegedly started experiencing food poisoning symptoms later that night and, with their health rapidly deteriorating, they sought the help of doctors at local hospitals.

Don and Gail Patterson and Heather Wilkinson died in the days following the lunch while Ian Wilkinson eventually recovered after spending nearly two months in hospital.

Scrutiny and curiosity

Patterson has repeatedly protested her innocence, saying she had bought the mushrooms from an Asian grocery store and was "devastated" that her cooking may have caused her loved ones to fall ill. 

Detectives spent Thursday searching through Patterson's house in Leongatha.

Homicide squad Detective Inspector Dean Thomas said the intense media scrutiny surrounding the investigation had taken its toll on the sleepy rural town, where the consequences would "reverberate for years to come". 

"Over the last three months, this investigation has been subjected to incredibly intense levels of public scrutiny and curiosity," he said in a statement Thursday following Patterson's arrest. 

"I cannot think of another investigation that has generated this level of media and public interest, not only here in Victoria but also nationally and internationally.

"I think it is particularly important that we keep in mind that at the heart of this, three people have lost their lives."

Death cap mushrooms sprout freely throughout wet, warm parts of Australia and are easily mistaken for edible varieties.

They reportedly taste sweeter than other types of mushrooms but possess potent toxins that slowly poison the liver and kidneys.

 

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