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Pastor still critically ill after suspected mushroom poisoning in Australia as detectives search rubbish bins for clues

by Reuters Journalist

A 68yr old pastor remains in critical condition in hospital, two weeks after having lunch at a family home in Australia.  Ian Wilkinson's wife Heather ate the same meal, along with her sister and brother-in-law.  All three have since died.  

Australian police were on Thursday investigating the deaths of the three elderly teachers, who were said to be much loved in their community. 

Don Patterson, his wife Gail Patterson and her sister Heather Wilkinson, became ill after eating lunch together on July 29 in Leongatha, a small rural town around 135 km (84 miles) southeast of Melbourne, police and local media said.

The mysterious deaths have gripped Australia, with interest increasing after police on Wednesday searched a local refuse centre for a dehydrator believed to have been used in the preparation of the lunch. 

On Sunday Police questioned a 48-year-old woman, who served the lunch, before releasing her without charge. 

"What happened is devastating and I'm grieving too," the woman told media in a tearful interview outside her home on Monday.  

The investigation is likely to be lengthy due to the complexity of the case, detective Dean Thomas said.  

"We presume at this stage it was mushrooms but it's a complex investigation that I think will take some time," he said.

The Patterson and Wilkinson families said in a statement in a local newspaper on Sunday they were grateful "to our wider communities for their outpouring of love, support, and prayers."   

"This support extends not only to those we have tragically lost but also to our family member who continues to bravely fight for his life in the hospital."

Deaths from consuming mushrooms are relatively rare in Australia, which has several species including the "death cap" mushroom that are dangerous enough to poison and kill a human.  

The deaths have led to warnings from health experts across the country not to forage for wild mushrooms and to buy from reputable sellers.

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