MORWELL, Australia (AP) — A woman accused of serving her ex-husband’s parents and an aunt poisonous mushrooms with lunch appeared in an Australian court Friday, charged with three counts of murder and five of attempted murder.
Erin Patterson, 49, did not enter pleas or apply to be released on bail when she appeared briefly in a local court in Morwell in Victoria state.
Police had arrested her Thursday at her home in Leongatha, where her former husband Simon Patterson, 48; his parents, Gail and Don Patterson, both 70; Gail Patterson’s sister Heather Wilkinson, 66; and Wilkinson’s husband, Ian Wilkison, 68, had been invited to lunch on July 29.
The murder charges relate to Erin Patterson’s parents-in-law and aunt-in-law, who had been hospitalized the next day and died within days.
She was charged with the attempted murder of Ian Wilkinson, a Baptist pastor who became critically ill and spent seven weeks in the hospital.
The remaining attempted murder charges relate to her former husband over various events, including the fatal lunch that he was invited to but did not attend. Police allege Simon Patterson became ill after eating three meals in 2021 and 2022, but didn’t specify Erin Patterson’s alleged involvement.
The potential maximum sentence in Victoria for murder is life imprisonment, and for attempted murder, 25 years in prison.
The defendant’s two children were at home during the lunch in July but did not share the allegedly poisonous beef Wellington dish.
Police searched Erin Patterson’s house Thursday with what they described as “technology detection dogs.” Predominantly Labradors, the dogs are trained to sniff out electronic storage devices that can be hidden in wall cavities and containers of food.
Prosecutor Greg Ellis requested the case be adjourned for 20 weeks to allow police time to analyze computer equipment seized from the home.
Magistrate Tim Walsh ordered Erin Patterson to remain in custody and appear in court next on May 3.
Walsh told her it was important that her case “progresses through the system as fast as possible.”
She replied “OK” and nodded her head.
Police say the symptoms of the four family members who attended the lunch were consistent with poisoning from wild Amanita phalloides, known as death cap mushrooms.
Patterson has publicly denied any wrongdoing.
“I’m devastated. I loved them. I can’t believe that this has happened and I’m so sorry,” she tearfully told reporters two days after the third death.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported that Patterson wrote in a statement that she cooked the meal using mushrooms bought from a major supermarket chain and dried mushrooms from an Asian grocery store. She wrote that she also ate the meal and later had stomach pains and diarrhea.