1911 Lunacy Trial

Tarrant County Courthouse

The Tarrant County Courthouse, around the turn of the 20th century.

Mary Couts Burnett Lunatic Probate

A summary of the 1911 judgment declaring Mary insane.

By 1911, it was clear that the Burnett marriage was breaking down.  But going through another costly divorce was not something Burk wanted to do.  Some accounts also claim that Mary began suffering from mental health issues which included hallucinations. But these presumed mental troubles did not slow down her active social and philanthropic life. 

The situation reached a head in a courtroom in Fort Worth, where Mary underwent a "Lunacy Trial."  Records of this trial are sparse and do not detail the evidence submitted to the court to prove Mary's unsound mind, or any defense she mounted.  Six men testified to Mary's state of mind. 

  • J. A. Chapman claimed that insanity was hereditary in the Couts family.
  • Dr. W. A. Duringer, a neighbor of the Burnetts who lived at 1402 Summit Avenue, stated in court that Mary was "hopelessly insane" and needed to be restrained.  
  • John T. Honea, a former law enforcement officer and detective, worked as a security guard at the Westbrook Hotel.  
  • Clay Johnson, listed in the 1911 Fort Worth city directory as a physician, surgeon, and proprietor of the Johnson Sanitarium concurred that Mary was not in her right mind.
  • Two other Fort Worth physicians, Dr. Warwick and Dr. Walker concurred with the testimony that Mary was "insane" and needed to be put away.

Their testimony convinced an all-male jury that Mary was indeed mentally unsound.  Judge R. E. Bratton's court remanded her to the Terrell Lunatic Asylum. 

Terrell State Hospital, Terrell, Texas

The Terrell State Hospital

In a hearing four months after her commitment, another court named Burk Burnett Mary's conservator, and gave him control over the money and real estate she inherited from her father, J. R. Couts.  At the time her worth was at least $50,000 (about $1.5 million in 2022).  Before she was committed, Mary was financially independent and made decisions about her money, including loaning a significant sum to her friend and fellow socialite Sicily Ann Waggoner.  After Burk took over Mary's financial affairs, Waggoner's repayment of the loan went to Burnett.

1911 Lunacy Trial