Lawsuit Seeks Naked Truth: Is Club for Nudists or Swingers?

PHOTO: Catherine Holmes
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Catherine "Darla" Holmes just wants her cabin back. It's her home away from home at the Maryland Health Society, a nudist club where she has been a member for the last decade.

Holmes, 53 says that the 79-year-old camp, nestled among pine trees and streams in Davidsonville, has become more of a "swingers club" than a rustic retreat that is supposed to be "family friendly."

The club, known as MaHeSo, sits on 98 acres along the Patuxent River and includes 25 rental cabins, a large clubhouse and pool, as well as grassy areas of sunbathing – in the nude.

"It used to be sexuality and nudity were two totally different things." - Catherine "Darla" Holmes

She said she swims and hikes without clothes, but lately, other club members are reporting people having sex along the walking paths and in the swimming pool.

"I am not a swinger and I don't care what goes on behind closed doors," Holmes told ABCNews.com. "But they should keep that in the bedroom."

When she spoke up about her concerns, Holmes said the club dropped her membership, banned her from the grounds and locked her out of her cabin, labeling her an attention-seeking "troublemaker."

Now, a judge will have to get to the naked truth about this heated affair.

Holmes is fighting back against the club's board of directors with a lawsuit filed May 6 in the Circuit Court of Anne Arundel County, asking for $1 million in damages. She also filed an earlier complaint with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights in April.

Holmes, who keeps a small place in Falls Church, Va., where she does her laundry and receives her mail, spends most of her time with her cat Midnight at MaHeSo's cabin 13.

A devout nudist, she said the lifestyle is "overwhelmingly wonderful, the freedom seeing people who love the skin and the water."

But, Holmes said, the nature of the club had changed and she wanted out. "It used to be sexuality and nudity were two totally different things."

Vicky Jarboe, who is head of MaHeSo's board of directors, would not comment on the allegations, nor would her lawyer, Paul Blumenthal of Annapolis.

But in court documents, Blumenthal argued that Holmes' complaint was "completely and utterly devoid of any specific facts" and that the standoff was "merely a contractual dispute."

The board denied all allegations and also made a counterclaim, asking the court to award it $3,000 in damages for a teepee that they say Holmes destroyed on the club property, as well as $1,500 for the cost of defacing property and "improper" posters and signs.

"The defendant is not a full member in good standing," argued the MaHeSo board in court documents, and failed to comply with club rules and maintenance terms.

They allege that Holmes had notified the board she was selling her cabin lease, but then changed her mind after the board supported her and agreed to drop her membership.

In a letter sent to the board last January, Holmes detailed a long list of activities -- oral sex in the pool, coupling in the woods and orgies -- that she said suggested the club was attracting swingers.

She acknowledges she has never seen public sex first-hand, but said the club is littered with evidence: "inappropriate signs, sippy penis straws."

Golf carts have sexual symbols, said Holmes, even at a time when MaHeSo is considering starting a youth club.

"I would love to have my nieces and nephews … come visit, but I am wary of them seeing something inappropriate," she told the board.

One of the signs in a photo that Holmes shared with the website Jezebel, which first reported the story, shows a graphic image of a stick figure that encourages club members not to pleasure themselves in the pool: "Please masturbate in showers."

Luckily, said Holmes, "I really haven't seen that many kids around. But it's not as safe a place as I had hoped."

MaHeSo belongs to the American Association for Nude Recreation, which serves 213, 000 nudists in 260 clubs throughout North America. AANR's website says that it encourages "wholesome nude family recreation."

Executive Director Jim Smock would not comment on the case because litigation was pending. But another AANR employee who answered the call from ABCNews.com said that public sex is "frowned upon -- that is the standard."

"Whatever you do in the privacy of your camper or tent or motor home or villa, that's fine, but not out in public," said the woman.

According to the FAQ section of the organization's website, "nudist camps are far less sexually charged than places where bikinis, thongs, or other provocative clothing, are worn."

Holmes said her club was "family friendly" until just the last year.

"I would go skinny dipping in the pool and walk the trails," she said. "The cabin looks out on a pretty creek and I like to go hiking. But people are power hungry and they are trying to turn this into a sex club."

Holmes bought the 46-year extended lease on her cabin in 2010 for $10,000 and pays yearly fees of $400. She said she invested $10,000 more to repair a leaking roof and other improvements.

The dispute began last year when Holmes sent a Dec. 28 email to the board, informing them that she would be selling the remaining years on her lease, "this or next year to another member in good standing," according to court documents.

But on Jan. 10, Holmes received a letter from the board requesting a meeting about her complaints. They alleged that she had warned visitors to the club about swinger complaints and had invited those who were also concerned to discuss the matter in her cabin.

Holmes replied in another email to the board on Jan. 11, telling them she could not attend the proposed meeting because of a funeral and asking to "please discuss my exit strategy. … I thought the board has more pressing matters than quizzing a departing member."

In the letter, which is part of the court record, she outlined all of her concerns about public sexual activity, including being "assaulted by a drunk member right at the clubhouse over a swinger discussion."

"Visitors here should be free to 'swing' with whomever they wish, I suppose, discreetly," Holmes wrote. "What is the board view on this?'

Court documents show that Feb. 20, the board again wrote Holmes: "Please be advised the board of directors do not intend to prevent you from leaving the club, to the contrary, the BOD fully supports your request to leave the club and will not be renewing your membership for 2013."

The board wished her "the best in the future."

Holmes insisted she paid her dues, due April 1, in March, which the board returned "registered, certified, goodbye."

She said she wanted to leave the club, but had no intention of dropping her membership until her cabin lease was sold.

"Otherwise, why would I have paid my dues?" said Holmes.

Today, Holmes is in a standoff with the MaHeSo board, which has changed the entrance code at the club's gate. For the last 32 days, she has been sneaking through the woods to her cabin and hoisting herself -- naked -- through its window.

"I've got bruises on my inner thighs," said Holmes. "I am not as young and yoga-fit as I used to be and I am sneaking in and out for cat food."

The board acknowledges in court papers that they have called the police several times to stop Holmes from trespassing. But Holmes said she refuses to cooperate until the court case is settled.

"The cops should be chasing robbers and drug dealers, not me," she said, insisting the lawsuit against MaHeSo is not about money. "They are trying to steal my cabin from me. Make me an offer."

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