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Forensic Toxicologist Reveals Key Challenge In Mushroom Poisoning Investigation

A forensic toxicologist has outlined the unlikely series of events that would need to have taken place for the police to establish that a mushroom-infused beef Wellington was the cause behind the deaths of three individuals.

Don Patterson and Gail Patterson, along with Heather Wilkinson, died after consuming the meal prepared by their former daughter-in-law Erin Patterson in Leongatha, southeast of Melbourne, on July 29.

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Heather’s husband, Ian Wilkinson, remains in hospital.

Despite the ongoing investigation by Victoria Police, no charges have been filed yet. 

Independent Forensic Consulting director Michael Robertson explained that for forensic toxicologists to determine the presence of the deadly death cap mushroom toxin, they would need to access the “time-sensitive pathology samples”.

Mr Roberston said the toxin typically remains “detectable” in blood for 12 to 24 hours and in urine for up to 48 hours. 

Police said four people started to experience symptoms of food poisoning on the same evening they ate beef wellington, and they were transported to Austin Hospital in northeast Melbourne after a short attendance at a local hospital.

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Unfortunately, two of them died six days after consuming the lunch, and a third followed the day after.

“They may not have got there until sort of midnight or the early hours of the morning after the lunch,” Mr Roberston told News.com.

“If that’s the case, it would mean they may have been close to 12 hours after lunch before they got to the hospital, which would have been the first chance to collect any samples.

“So it’s possible that all the samples just weren’t available or that the samples were useless.”

He suggested the forensic toxicologist obtain a pure sample of the toxin as the death cup mushroom poisoning was “uncommon in Australia”.

“So the question now is how quickly can you get something from Europe express post to Australia?”

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