Several locals have offered to donate body parts in order to save the life of the sole survivor of Victoria’s mushroom poisoning tragedy.
Simon Patterson lost both his parents, Gail and Don Patterson, after they were served a deadly meal on July 29 — believed to be a beef wellington pie — by Simon’s ex-wife, Erin Patterson, following a gathering at the 48-year-old’s home in Leongatha, southeast of Melbourne.
Gail’s sister Heather Wilkinson also died after eating the pie, which police suspect had death cap mushrooms in it, while her husband Ian is fighting for his life in hospital.
Ms Patterson has maintained her innocence and police have said the case is “complex” and there could be a “very innocent” explanation.
Now, South Gippsland councillor Jenni Keerie has revealed generous community members are rallying around Mr Wilkinson.
“I’ve had community members phone me this week and say, ‘I’ve heard Ian needs a transplant … and I want to be a donor so what can I do’,” Ms Keerie, who previously worked with Mrs Wilkinson, told the ABC.
“You don’t get that often that people are willing to donate a part of their body to save the life of someone else but that is the type of people they were.
“That is the calibre of people they were and their contributions to the community.”
It comes as sources have claimed the woman suspected of poisoning her former in-laws had an “odd” relationship with her ex-partner.
Friends told The Australian there seemed to be a strain and “sense of oddness” between Ms Patterson and Simon, who was reportedly invited to the fatal gathering but pulled out last minute.
Another former friend of Ms Patterson’s echoed this sentiment.
She told the outlet they got on well but there had been something “odd’’ about her and Simon’s relationship.
Simon was said to be involved in the community as a basketball coach and photographer but otherwise wasn’t very social.
Mushroom chef’s newsletter on ‘growing your own mushrooms’
The new details have been unearthed as a local Victorian newsletter, previously edited by Ms Patterson, included a quirky and coincidental detail in one of the publications.
When first taking over The Burra Flyer from her then husband’s parents in 2018, Ms Patterson gushed over her “extraordinarily generous” in-laws and thanked them for their help.
Just a few years later, a tragic incident would lead to their deaths.
Neither the 48-year-old Ms Patterson nor her two children, who she shares with Gail and Don’s son Simon, became ill after the lunch.
Police are investigating the deaths, with Ms Patterson denying any wrongdoing. No charges have been laid.
Now a coincidental detail published in an edition of The Burra Flyer under Ms Patterson’s editorship has come to light.
The 2019 September-November edition of the newsletter included details of a local workshop teaching people in the community how to grow their own mushrooms.
In the Korumburra workshop people would be taught “how to grow gourmet mushrooms at home using easy to source materials and low-tech methods”.
“The class includes making your own oyster mushroom grow bag to take home, teaching notes and a delicious afternoon tea,” the notice in the newsletter read.
There is no suggestion that the details published in this newsletter are in any way linked to the death cap mushroom poisonings.
Ms Patterson edited The Burra Flyer newsletter from 2018 to 2020 after taking it over from Gail and Don.
During her time editing the newsletter, the mum-of-two often included photos taken by her now estranged ex Simon, with multiple pictures showing their two children enjoying various activities around the local area.
Simon’s photographs were also a common feature in the newsletter when it was run by his parents, with the June-August 2016 issue standing out from the others.
The front page photo showed a group of poisonous red toadstools on a nature strip, which was taken by Simon.
These vibrantly coloured fungi, also called Amanita muscaria, are known to pop up across southern Australia and thrive in wet conditions.
Amanita muscaria belong to the same genus as death cap mushroom and are toxic to both humans and animals.
How doomed lunch unfolded
Mystery still surrounds much of the case as police continue to piece together exactly how a lunch led to the deaths of three people and left another fighting for his life.
This is what we know so far.
Ms Patterson invited her ex-husband’s parents Gail and Don Patterson, his aunt Heather Wilkinson and her husband Ian for lunch at her home on July 29.
It was originally thought that four people were admitted to hospital following the lunch, but local newspaper the Southern Gippsland Sentinel-Times reported that a fifth person was also discharged, after a short presentation at the Leongatha Hospital, on Sunday, July 30.
Aside from the four lunch guests, the only other adult at the lunch was Ms Patterson.
It raises questions about why Ms Patterson went to hospital, if she wasn’t unwell.
The two children she shares with Simon were also in attendance.
Earlier this week a close friend of Simon told the Daily Mail that the reason for the lunch was part of an effort to try and negotiate a reconciliation between the separated couple.
“They went to her house for a mediation to talk to the family. Simon was supposed to go there for lunch but he pulled out in the last minute otherwise he would be in that death bed too,” the friend said, adding that Simon was not interested in getting back with the mother of his children.
The friend told The Daily Mail that Simon’s family was worried about Ms Patterson’s “mental state” so they accepted the lunch invitation to “make sure she was in the right mental health to resume a relationship with Simon”.
“This wasn’t just a lunch, it was an intervention with the pastor as mediator. That’s why this lunch happened,” the friend said.
During the course of the lunch, Ms Patterson served a meal, reported to be a beef wellington pie, that police believe may have contained death cap mushrooms.
Homicide Squad Detective Inspector Dean Thomas said the group left the property after lunch and then that evening at about midnight “some of them started to fall ill”.
During the course of the following day, all four people were admitted to either the Korumburra or Leongatha hospitals.
Inspector Thomas said the group demonstrated food poisoning-type symptoms and were later taken to Austin Hospital.
If consumed, death cap mushrooms attack the liver and can be fatal if treatment isn’t sought out quickly. However, the mushroom can cause extensive damage before the person has any symptoms.
Three of the group died in hospital, with Ian still in a critical condition.
Neither Ms Patterson, who has continually denied any wrongdoing, nor her two children became ill after the lunch.
Investigations continue as questions remain unanswered
Earlier this week Inspector Thomas said police were still unsure where the death cap mushrooms had been sourced from.
Ms Patterson’s home was searched last weekend and she was interviewed by police.
“We’re working to determine what has gone on, to see if there is any nefarious activity that has occurred or if it was accidental,” he said.
“We have to keep an open mind.”
He emphasised it was a “complex case” and “it could be very innocent”.
According to 7 News, Ms Patterson initially told police during her interview that she picked up the mushrooms from a local shop in the Leongatha area.
A dehydrator was also discovered by authorities at a tip near the Leongatha home, which is currently undergoing forensic testing to see if it is related to the poisonings.
Ms Patterson broke her silence on the tragic incident on Monday, telling the media that she “loved” her former in-laws and was “devastated they are gone”.
“I didn’t do anything,” the visibly upset 48-year-old she told the media outside her home.
“They were some of the best people I’ve ever met. Gail was like the mum I didn’t have because my mum passed away four years ago, Gail had never been anything but good and kind to me.”
– with Benedict Brook and Clare Sibthorpe