Three of the four guests who attended a family lunch in a quiet Australian country town died shortly afterward, with symptoms the police said were consistent with mushroom poisoning. The fourth spent nearly two months hospitalized, critically ill.
The case has gripped the nation and led to intense speculation. The woman who cooked the meal has always strongly maintained her innocence. On Thursday, three months after the lunch in question, police took her into custody for further questioning.
Erin Patterson, 49, hosted the lunch on July 29, at her home in Leongatha in the state of Victoria. In attendance were Gail and Don Patterson, the parents of her estranged husband, as well as Gail Patterson’s sister, Heather Wilkinson, and brother-in-law, Ian Wilkinson.
All four guests, who were in their 60s or 70s, fell ill soon after the meal. Mr. Patterson, Ms. Patterson and Ms. Wilkinson all died within a week of the lunch. Mr. Wilkinson eventually recovered and was released from the hospital in late September.
Their symptoms, the police said at the time, were consistent with poisoning by death cap mushroom — one of the deadliest mushroom varieties, which is found in Victoria and other parts of Australia.
Ms. Patterson has consistently denied wrongdoing. She tearfully told local news media in August that she “didn’t do anything, I loved them.”
She was taken into custody on Thursday morning, Victoria Police said in a statement, as part of the authorities’ “ongoing investigation” into the deaths. She has not been charged.
The police are searching her home, relying on dogs to hunt down items like USB sticks and SIM cards. After the search, Ms. Patterson will be interviewed by the police, Detective Inspector Dean Thomas said at a news conference on Thursday in Melbourne.
The arrest, he said, “is just the next step in what has been a complex and thorough investigation.”
He added that the investigation “has been subject to incredibly intense levels of public scrutiny and curiosity. I cannot think of another investigation that has generated this level of public and media interest.”
In a statement provided to the police in August, which was obtained by local news media outlets, Ms. Patterson said that she had prepared a meal of beef Wellington that day, using fresh mushrooms bought from a local supermarket and dried mushrooms bought from an Asian grocer in Melbourne, which is about 85 miles northwest of Leongatha.
She said that she also ate the beef Wellington that day. The next day, her two children ate the leftovers for lunch, she said, but added that she scraped off the mushrooms from their portions because they do not like them.
Ms. Patterson said that she had also been hospitalized after the lunch with bad stomach pains and diarrhea but was given a “liver protectant drug.”
In her statement, Ms. Patterson said that she had discarded a food dehydrator at a dump.