IT seems like any other family lunch as relatives tuck into a tasty beef wellington – but days later, three guests are dead of mushroom poisoning.
A surviving witness lies critically ill in hospital and the finger of suspicion points at the woman who cooked the meal, but miraculously isn’t sick.
This may sound like a plot from board game Cluedo, but it is no fiction story — it is real life and has millions gripped across the world.
At its centre is mum-of-two Erin Patterson, 48, who — desperate to win back her estranged husband Simon — arranged a “mediation lunch” with the help of relatives.
Simon called off at the last minute, but his parents Gail and Don Patterson, both 70, and his aunt Heather Wilkinson, 66, turned up.
They have all since passed away.
Simon’s uncle Ian Wilkinson, 68, was also there and is still fighting for his life in hospital.
In an intriguing twist, it has now emerged Simon allegedly told a pal that Erin had tried to poison him before.
And it’s claimed he once “almost died” from a mystery gut illness.
Cops in Australia say Erin — a wealthy estate agent — is a “subject of interest” in the case.
She has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, saying: “I didn’t do anything. I loved them and I’m devastated they’re gone.”
It is understood Erin originally told cops she bought the mushrooms for the dish — known as death caps — from a store close to her home in Leongatha in Victoria.
But she then clammed up during further interviews.
Within hours of questioning her, detectives painstakingly searched a nearby rubbish tip and also swooped at a junkyard in the neighbouring town of Koonwarra, where they retrieved a food dehydrator believed to have been used to prep the meal.
Cops are now trying to trace CCTV which would show cars driving in and out of the site.
The drama began on July 29 when Erin invited in-laws Gail and Don, plus Gail’s sister Heather and husband Ian, to lunch.
They dined on the beef dish wrapped in pate and mushrooms, before Gail and Heather, who were both teachers, fell seriously ill and died in hospital six days later. Don passed away the following night.
Heather’s husband Ian, a pastor, is in a critical condition and needs a liver transplant.
It is not known if Erin ate the same food.
Her two children, whose ages are not known, were also at the lunch but had different meals.
Friends say the get-together was Erin’s attempt to negotiate a reconciliation with Simon, a popular local church member — and that Ian, who preaches nearby, was key to a reunion.
But a friend told Australian newspapers that Simon had no interest in getting back with his wife, adding: “He was supposed to go there for lunch, but he pulled out at the last minute, otherwise he would be in a death bed too.”
Another source said: “Erin wanted to get back with Simon and the family didn’t want Simon to get back with her. They didn’t think she was good enough for him.
“This wasn’t just a lunch, it was an intervention, with the pastor as mediator. That’s why this lunch happened.”
Now it has emerged Simon allegedly believed that Erin had tried to poison him in the past through an “ingested toxin” from plants.
In claims made to Aussie paper the Herald Sun, a pal said: “Simon suspected he had been poisoned by Erin. There were times he had felt a bit off and it often coincided when he spent time with her.”
‘He pulled out of lunch or he’d be in death bed too’
The mystery deepened after it was revealed Simon wrote a Facebook post in June last year saying he’d ended up in a coma for 16 days with a strange stomach complaint.
He wrote: “I collapsed at home then was in an induced coma for 16 days through which I had three emergency operations, mainly on my small intestine, plus an additional planned operation.
“My family were asked to come and say goodbye to me twice as I was not expected to live. I was in intensive care for 21 days, after which I was in the general ward for a week. Now I’m at a rehab place.”
There is no suggestion Simon blamed his former wife for the hospital stay, and his friend maintained the dad-of-two did not suspect Erin on that occasion.
The couple split in February 2021 and it is believed Simon now lives in a house owned by his ex, who bought several properties after coming into money when her parents died in 2019.
Neighbours say he tried to “keep the relationship stable for their children’s sake”.
Friends of Gail and Don said Simon, who is in his forties, lived with his mum and dad when he and Erin first split, but moved out late last year.
A neighbour of the family said: “Gail and Don had been very sort of mobile people.
“They were always out doing their lawns. They were pretty active. Don used to go for walks every morning.”
He described Simon’s parents as “kind people” who wanted to maintain contact with Erin and their grandchildren after the split.
‘Beloved family were cherished individuals’
According to Australia’s 7News, Erin initially told cops she bought the mushrooms from a shop in the Leongatha area.
It is understood that she has since given a “no comment” interview, refusing to confirm where they came from.
There have been no recalls or warnings over locally purchased produce, according to 7News Australia.
The poisonous fungi, which can be mistaken for edible mushrooms, grow under oak trees.
They cause low blood pressure, nausea and vomiting within eight hours.
Symptoms tend to disappear but return three to four days after consumption, causing potentially fatal liver and kidney damage.
Mushroom foraging is popular in the small rural community where the family lives.
In May, Anna Matilda, founder of The Urban Nanna, which runs workshops for foragers, said interest had “skyrocketed” across Victoria since Covid lockdowns.
Police yesterday said they have removed Erin’s children from her care as a “precaution”.
Homicide detective Inspector Dean Thomas revealed the symptoms suffered by guests were most likely to be from death cap mushrooms.
He revealed Erin was of interest because she “cooked for those present” and “she hasn’t presented with any symptoms”.
He added: “We need to keep an open mind. It could be very innocent, we just don’t know at this point.”
As the mystery deepens, the world’s media has descended on the little town of Leongartha, which has fewer than 6,000 residents.
Mayor Nathan Hersey said the close community has been left with a sense of “shock, disbelief and grief” following the deaths.
At the church where Ian preached, loved ones and locals laid flowers — and a letter written on behalf of the family is on display.
It reads: “Our beloved family members were cherished individuals. They were parents, grandparents, siblings, children and pillars of faith within our community.”
Meanwhile, Erin appeared to have gone to ground.
She left her home yesterday morning, telling reporters she was going to see her legal team in Melbourne.
Seven hours later a representative from the firm turned up to hand-deliver a letter, saying it was the only way they could contact her after cops confiscated her computer and phone.
Before she left, Erin lashed out at waiting media, saying: “I’ve got tons of friends who want to help me.
“But I’ve told them to stay away while the vultures are here because they don’t want to be in the papers either.
“So I can’t get help from my friends who all want to come and help me.”