A woman who cooked a meal that killed three people from suspected mushroom poisoning did not get sick, police say.
Ian Wilkinson and Heather Wilkinson, along with Mrs Wilkinson’s sister and brother-in-law Gail and Don Patterson, fell ill after having lunch that included hand-picked mushrooms at a property in Leongatha, in the Gippsland region of Victoria, the July 29. .
All four went to hospital the next day as their condition dramatically worsened and the two sisters, aged 70 and 66, passed away on Friday. Patterson, 70, died Saturday night.
Wilkinson, 68, remains in critical condition in hospital and is believed to be awaiting a liver transplant.
Homicide detectives raided the house where the lunch was held on Saturday and questioned a 48-year-old woman who lives on the property and is the daughter-in-law of one of the couples. She has since been released pending further investigation.
Victoria Police Detective Inspector for the Homicide Squad, Dean Thomas, confirmed that the 48-year-old woman is a person of interest as she had prepared the meal.
“She hasn’t been showing any symptoms, but we have to keep an open mind in relation to this, which could be very innocent, but again, we just don’t know at this point,” he said Monday.
No charges are expected to be filed at this stage of the investigation.
Ian Wilkinson and Heather Wilkinson (both pictured), along with Ms Wilkinson’s sister and brother-in-law Gail and Don Patterson, became seriously ill after eating wild mushrooms. Ms Wilkinson died on Friday while her husband remains in critical condition at hospital.
Thomas added that while the investigations into the trio’s deaths did not necessarily mean they were treated as suspects, they are “inexplicable”.
The 48-year-old’s two children were also present at the lunch, but Thomas said they ate different meals than adults and did not experience any illness.
Those two children were taken to the hospital as a precaution and have been removed from their mother’s care.
Thomas said police “assumed” the deaths were due to fungus, adding that the symptoms presented are related to death hat fungus.
“We have seized a number of exhibits in relation to the matter, many of the items we have seized will be forensically examined in the hope that they may shed some light on what occurred,” he said.
Investigators say it is not yet known whether the matter is suspicious as they are still trying to establish the circumstances surrounding the case (Pictured: Mushrooms collected)
Thomas previously told Radio 3AW that officers were working to determine if any “nefarious activity” had occurred.
‘Or if it’s…in this case…an accidental type of situation where these people have died from some kind of poisoning, you know, not at the hands of someone else. So, we don’t know yet,’ he said.
‘We will be working closely with medical experts, toxicologists… in the hope that we can understand exactly what has happened and provide some answers to the family.
“We’re trying to understand who ate what at lunch, whether or not that person who didn’t get sick ate the mushrooms… And of course we’re trying to determine what actually caused the poisoning… at four people who attended.’
Urgent warning about the consumption of foraged mushrooms
GP Ginni Mansberg told Sunrise on Monday that mushroom poisonings occur from foraged mushrooms and not from those bought in supermarkets.
Detectives questioned a local woman, 48, who is believed to have cooked the meal, but she has since been released.
‘There is no risk from the supermarket. We have this incredible variety that is completely safe, that does not have any of the toxins that have tragically caused these deaths,” said Dr. Mansberg.
‘This all comes down to looking for wild mushrooms. It’s so hard to tell the difference between what is a perfectly safe mushroom and one that could end in tragedy.
Even experts can find it really difficult. I know there are a number of apps you can get to have Geo locate you and then you can take a photo.
“They all have disclaimers telling you not to eat the mushrooms because the worst case scenario is so bad and it’s a horrible death.”
GP Ginni Mansberg (pictured) says that mushroom poisonings occur from forage mushrooms and not from those bought in supermarkets.
COMMON SYMPTOMS OF MUSHROOM POISONING
Source: New South Wales Poisons Information Center
The GP advised that although wild mushrooms are eaten abroad, the toxins in Australia cannot be destroyed by cooking or washing.
When digested, the toxins work through the human body and destroy the liver.
The medical director of the New South Wales Poison Information Center, Darren Roberts, wrote in April about the dangers of collecting mushrooms.
“Toxic mushrooms can resemble edible mushrooms and can look different depending on where they grow, even on every continent,” Roberts wrote in The conversation.
Mushroom identification apps don’t seem to be accurate enough in Australia. It’s also not clear how useful mushroom identification books are in helping people distinguish edible from toxic ones.
‘Australia also has poisonous mushrooms that can kill or cause permanent liver or kidney failure.
“That’s because they contain toxins that kill the liver, kidneys, and other cells in essential organs of the body that the body can’t repair.”
He said that examples of such fungi are the death mushroom (Amanita phalloides), found in Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.
Earlier this year, Victoria Health also warned people not to pick dangerous mushrooms after weeks of wet weather.
On Sunday, the Wilkinson and Patterson families released a statement about the tragedy.
“The last week has been a time of shock and grief for all of us,” it said, as reported by the local South Gippsland Sentinel-Times newspaper.
‘They were parents, grandparents, siblings, children and pillars of faith within our community.’
‘Their love, unwavering faith and selfless service have left an indelible mark on our families, Korumburra Baptist Church, the local community and indeed on people around the world.’
“Our families will help the proper authorities in any way we can and will respect the necessary processes in the midst of this tragedy.”