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In the novel By the Pricking of My Thumbs, Ada Maria Fanshawe was a spinster aunt of Tommy Beresford. She spent her last days in a retirement home.

Aunt Ada had "iron-grey hair, a thin wrinkled face with a large, high-bridged nose and a general air of disapprobation".

In her youth she had known Josiah Penn. According to Sir Josiah, Aunt Ada was the prettiest girl he knew. She was dark-haired, and lively, and she "could be a regular little devil when she liked". When Sir Josiah was a subaltern, he and Aunt Ada had attended a moonlight picnic on the beach. They wandered away from the others, and sat on a rock looking at the sea. They wrote to each other for a while, while he was posted to India, but they never saw each other again.

When Tommy and Tuppence went to visit Aunt Ada at Sunny Ridge, she at first said that she had never heard of Tommy, and told them to go away. According to her, she had only one nephew, who was named William, and who was killed in the last war.

Aunt Ada also said that Tuppence's name, Prudence, was a ridiculous name. Aunt Ada mentioned that her Great-uncle Mathew had a parlourmaid called Comfort, and a housemaid called Rejoice-in-the-Lord. However, Great-aunt Fanny had told the housemaid that she was to be called Rebecca while she lived in their home.

Aunt Ada later called Tommy back, and said she would talk to him. She apologized for receiving him roughly, and said that she did not care for being imposed upon, and that at Sunny Ridge, they would let in anyone to see her. She thought that anyone could come, saying he was a doctor, and if the patient said she did not know him, the nurses would only say she was forgetful and had forgotten him.

Aunt Ada asked Tommy about his mother and his Aunt Caroline, and seemed unperturbed when he told her that they had passed away. She said to Tommy that everyone seemed to be dying, and that people had no stamina, and were feeble. She also mentioned that she had heard that elderly people were being poisoned to get hearts for the surgeons, but she did not think it was true because Miss Packard would not have stood for it.

According to Miss Packard, Aunt Ada sometimes enjoyed being rude to people, and was "unfortunately rather good at it". According to Nurse O'Keefe, she had "a grand spirit", and nothing "got her down". She would tell grand stories about the old days, such as the time she rode a horse up the staircase of a country house.

Nurse O'Keefe also said that Aunt Ada was sharp, and that one would be surprised at the way she got to know things. Dr Murray said something similar, that Aunt Ada was a woman of "considerable mental capacity, though she often pretended otherwise". According to Dr Murray, she amused herself by "putting on an appearance of senility", but she was "actually very much all there".

Aunt Ada died in her sleep about three weeks after Tommy's visit to her at Sunny Ridge. She was buried in a village in Lincolnshire, where most of her family and forebears had been buried.

After Aunt Ada's death, Tommy inherited a desk which had originally belonged to his Uncle William. Albert discovered some secret drawers in the desk, in which Aunt Ada had hidden some documents. There was a recipe for Salmon Cream, which had been given to Aunt Ada as a special favour, and an envelope containing ten carefully folded five pound notes. According to Tommy, Aunt Ada had said that every woman should always have fifty pounds in five pound notes with her, in case of emergencies.

Aunt Ada had also hidden a sealed envelope, which in the event of her death, was to be sent unopened to either her solicitor, Mr Rockbury, or to Tommy. This envelope contained a document written by Aunt Ada, in which she said that there seemed to be reason to believe that there were suspicious, or possibly criminal, activities taking place at Sunny Ridge, or that such activities had taken place there. According to this document, Mrs Moody had recognized a well-known criminal there, and there might have been a poisoner at work. Aunt Ada wanted either Mr Rockbury or Tommy to make a full investigation.

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