A former leading homicide cop has revealed the next moves investigators will take in probing the fatal mushroom lunch that killed three people in regional Victoria, following claims of a significant development in the case.
Veteran Melbourne crime reporter John Silvester this week claimed police forensics had proven poisoned mushrooms caused the death of Don and Gail Patterson and Gail’s sister, Heather Wilkinson, at a lunch hosted by Erin Patterson.
Ms Patterson hosted the three and Heather’s husband, Pastor Ian Wilkinson, at her Leongatha home in Victoria’s South Gippsland region on July 29. Mr Wilkinson was the sole survivor and released from hospital more than a week ago.
It was hoped the lunch would be serve as a ‘mediation’ gathering to discuss Ms Patterson’s relationship with her estranged husband Simon, who pulled out at the last minute.
Charlie Bezzina, who solved many high profile murder cases as a Victoria Police detective, said there were further twists in the case in the weeks ahead.
He said that if police had established the deaths’ ‘causation’ – as Mr Silvester claims but Victoria Police has yet to confirm – detectives then have five vital areas of investigation to work through before any charges might be laid.
Erin Patterson is a suspect following the deaths of three guests at a July 29 lunch at her house, but an ex-cop says other persons could also be in the sights of Victoria Police
Ex Homicide cop Charlie Bezzina says there are five major parts of the investigation police have to closely examine before laying charges or turning over the case to the coroner
Daily Mail Australia is not suggesting that Erin Patterson intended to harm or kill anyone, only that police are now investigating the fatal lunch to determine whether any charges should or should not be laid.
Mr Bezzina said, should the forensics tests be confirmed, ‘we can put that to bed and move forward’.
‘The next most paramount thing is what the pastor – and they would have spoken with him in hospital – has told investigators about a number of things,’ Mr Bezzina said.
‘Pastor Wilkinson can say if the guests were invited over to (Erin Patterson’s) house, say, every Sunday, every fortnight or month, or if they hadn’t been invited over previously.
‘As investigators, we don’t prove innocence or guilt, we present fact that is either inculpatory or exculpatory (tending to incriminate, or tending to clear guilt).
‘If you are innocent you’d be jumping on top of the table and saying this is such an accident.
‘(Erin Patterson) has provided a statement to police from her lawyer. Now it’s up to investigators to prove criminal intent, or say that it is an accident, which is what her defence will be saying.’
Mr Bezzina laid out what will now be unfolding in the Homicide Squad taskforce investigating the triple poison mushroom fatalities.
1. THE LAST SUPPER
Mr Bezzina said filling in the dots between Ms Patterson and her lunch guests was necessary to determine these points: Why was the lunch held, and what historically was the customary ‘course of conduct’ between the hostess and her guests?
‘Pastor Wilkinson could describe how the lunch was served, if he had any knowledge how it was prepared, whether it was prepared at Ms Patterson’s house or elsewhere, and if there was any discussion of mushrooms and foraging.
‘He could reveal if the guests were invited over to (Ms Patterson’s) house, say, every Sunday, every fortnight or month, or if they hadn’t been invited over previously,’ Mr Bezzina said.
Erin Patterson’s house, scene of the now-infamous Beef Wellington lunch after which three guests died from, it has now been proven, mushroom poisoning
Heather Wilkinson (left) died from mushroom poisoning it has been revealed as her husband, Pastor Ian Wilkinson (right) was released from hospital nine weeks after the fatal lunch
2. WAS SOMEONE ELSE INVOLVED?
Mr Bezzina said detectives would question if there was somebody else involved – another person who might have prepared the meal and given it to Ms Patterson who unknowingly served it, and if they had a motive or reason to harm the lunch guests.
He reiterated that Pastor Wilkinson’s account of the lunch setting and the atmosphere would be intrinsic to the taskforce’s direction.
‘The investigation could take a year, two years, to prove one way or another.
‘Investigators may conclude it’s just an accident.’
It has been proven that Don and Gail Patterson (left) died from mushroom poisoning after attending a lunch at their daughter-in-law’s house and were buried (above) in August
Police retrieved a mushroom dehydrator dumped at the local tip (above) by Erin Patterson, but would have taken items and utensils from her home and forensically tested kitchen surfaces
Erin Patterson packs up at her Leongatha home in August and has since dropped from sight amid intense interest in the case which is now entering a new phase of investigation
3. TRACING THE KILLER FUNGI
Collecting the physical evidence and determining how and why the poisonous mushrooms ended up in the pie is also highly important, Mr Bezzina said.
Police retrieved the mushroom dehydrator Ms Patterson dumped at the local tip – in a panic, she later explained, when her lunch guests went to hospital – however they would have also collected items from the house where the lunch was held.
Mr Bezzina said analysing the dehydrator may not have produced any physical evidence of mushroom traces as it may have been washed, but that the other items and Ms Patterson’s house might have contained fragments.
‘You need to find out how the (Death Cap mushrooms) came to being cooked in the meal, but it will be important to take samples from kitchen surfaces and cooking utensils to prove beyond doubt they were there, should this go to court,’ Mr Bezzina said.
The detective said establishing if Death Cap mushrooms grow in Korumburra and surrounds was important to establish
‘They would also be establishing if the areas around nearby Korumburra facilitate the growth of Death Cap mushrooms, if they grow prolifically within 30-40km.
‘Foraging mushrooms is not unusual in country areas, I’ve been mushrooming myself as a teenager.
‘But investigators would be going to Melbourne University and speaking to toxicologists and botanists.’
3. ERIN’S STORY – TRUTH OR FICTION
Any detectives will be looking to confirm or dismantle Ms Patterson’s story – did she lie, or is she another victim of a terrible tragedy?
Ms Patterson said she cooked Beef Wellington which contained mushrooms and shared it with her guests. She also ate some herself, and gave ‘leftovers’ to her children after ‘scraping’ off the mushrooms which they didn’t like.
police will check hospital records to corroborate Erin Patterson’s (above) reported stay following the lunch, her treatment and the results of any tests she might have had.
Mr Bezzina said that police would be checking hospital records to corroborate Ms Patterson’s reported stay following the lunch, her treatment and the results of any tests she might have had.
He said because Ms Patterson has stated that she bought button mushrooms at a supermarket and other mushrooms at an ‘Asian grocery store’, the story needed police investigation to confirm or pull apart.
‘Saying she doesn’t remember where the Asian shop is doesn’t make her a killer, as she said, after the deaths she was feeling so devastated,’ Mr Bezzina said.
‘But the investigators will run rabbits down every burrow,’ he said.
‘The investigators would want her to say what area she believed the Asian shop was in, then get CCTV in the time-frames she went there.
Simon Patterson (above at his parents’ memorial) and his two children with Erin Patterson will also be thoroughly interviewed to establish the family’s past course of conduct
‘They would be looking potentially through a whole week’s worth of CCTV footage from the Asian shop and from the supermarket when she bought the other mushrooms, to see if her true movements back up her statement.
‘That’s why the police have said this investigation is long and complex, because the tentacles go in many different directions.’
4. THE EX-HUSBAND AND THE KIDS
Interviewing Ms Patterson’s ex-husband and their two children is also a central part of the police probe.
‘They will be looking at the whole domestic situation of family,’ Mr Bezzina said.
‘Ms Patterson said she loved them (the lunch guests) and what could she possibly have to gain if they died.’
Any past events or controversies will be examined by detectives, such as the bizarre ‘death wall’ of graffiti featuring drawings of tombstones allegedly left by the children in a room of Erin’s house
Mr Bezzina said Ms Patterson’s ex-husband, Simon Patterson, and their children would be interviewed at length.
Past events or controversies will be examined by detectives including the bizarre ‘death wall’ of graffiti featuring drawings of tombstones allegedly by the children in a room of Erin’s house.
Any siblings or other relatives and close friends will also be interviewed, Mr Bezzina said.
While Erin Patterson has been the focus of media attention, detectives may be looking at one of two other persons in am investigation which could take years
5. A CORONIAL INQUEST
Mr Bezzina said the other prospect was a coronial inquest.
‘There are no rules of evidence at an inquest, so while it might be long, protracted and complex we could eventually get to the bottom of why these people died,’ he said.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk