Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt during their plea hearings.

Ruby Franke & Jodi Hildebrandt Will Serve Up To 30 Years For Felony Child Abuse

“I took from you all that was soft, and safe, and good.”

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Former parenting vlogger Ruby Franke, who rose to prominence for her controversial parenting content YouTube, and her former business partner Jodi Hildebrandt, were each sentenced to four to 60 years in prison on Feb. 20 following plea deals for four counts of felony child abuse. The sentences, which are the culmination of each count carrying a one to 15 year sentence, will be served consecutively. The duration of the sentence will ultimately be decided by the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole; Utah law is such that while the sentence is technically up to 60 years, neither woman will serve more than 30 years.

In court, Franke appeared to lay much of the blame at the feet of Hildebrandt, and told Judge John J. Walton “For the past four years, I’ve chosen to follow counsel and guidance that has led me into a dark delusion. My distorted version of reality went largely unchecked as I would isolate from anyone who challenged me.” She continued. “To my babies, you are a part of me. I believed dark was light and right was wrong. I would do anything in this world for you. I took from you all that was soft, and safe, and good.”

For her part, Hildebrandt fell short of apologizing or admitting wrong-doing but told the court, “I sincerely love these children. I desire for them to heal physically and emotionally.”

Content warning: This article contains descriptions of child abuse.

Who is Ruby Franke?

Ruby Franke is a parenting influencer whose YouTube channel, 8 Passengers, posted new content up to six times a week between 2015 and 2022. At its zenith, the channel, which centered around day-to-day family life and Frankes, especially Ruby’s extremely strict parenting choices, would post up to six times a week for 2.3 million subscribers. Over time, however, followers and posts dwindled and the channel petered out in 2022. It has since been deleted.

After the decline of 8 Passengers, Franke joined ConneXions Classroom, a self-improvement and “mental fitness” program that purports to promote healing and personal growth “through impeccable honesty, rigorous personal responsibility and vulnerable humility.” Franke joined as a “certified mental fitness trainer” (which is not a recognized accreditation for mental health workers) to provide content on ConneXions’ social media platforms and podcasts with a focus on parents and children.

On the organization’s Instagram account, Franke would regularly appear alongside ConneXions’ founder Jodi Hildebrandt. Both individually and together, the two would discuss topics ranging from “What does it mean to worship my child?” to “wokeness.”

Many expressed concern over Franke’s treatment of her children over the years.

Franke’s six children — Chad, Shari, Abby, Julie, Russell, and Eve — whom she shares with husband Kevin Franke, would frequently appear in content posted to 8 Passengers, even in cases when they asked not to be filmed or to take a discussion off-camera. Franke routinely disciplined, or recounted instances of discipline, on camera. The extreme nature of her parenting style shocked many and included (but is not limited to)...

- Denying her children food (“the privilege to eat dinner”) as punishment.

- Refusing to bring her then-kindergarten aged daughter Eve the lunchbox she’d forgotten at home with the intention of teaching her a lesson through hunger.

- Threatening to decapitate her small daughter’s stuffed animal.

- Denying one daughter time at preschool because the toddler didn’t know it was time to wake up.

- Taking away “room privileges” and making Chad sleep on the living room floor for seven months because he’d pranked his younger brother.

Her teenage son was also, for reasons the family did not disclose, sent to Anasazi Foundation Wilderness Therapy, a controversial religious “outdoor behavioral healthcare program” that purports to help adolescents address a range of behavioral and mental health issues from depression to “entitlement issues.”

As time went on, the family’s questionable discipline methods and potentially abusive behavior became more and more conspicuous. In May of 2020, a petition which garnered almost 18,000 signatures, urged child protective services to investigate the family. Franke lost droves of followers and, likely as a result, posted less and less content until the channel became effectively dormant.

Jodi Hildebrandt had also been embroiled in controversy prior to these most recent charges.

Hildebrandt is a professional counselor, but had previously been on probation after revealing confidential details of a patient to Bringham Young University and the Church of the Latter Day Saints, resulting in the patient’s expulsion from the school and a loss of privileges within his church community. The unnamed man claims that Hildebrandt’s accusations of pornography addiction were fabricated. “She would only threaten me that if I didn't take more sessions and have my wife take more sessions, the alleged addiction would destroy my life,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2012. “She just lied wherever she went to [further] an agenda to destroy my life.”

Franke’s lawyers lay a great deal of blame for the abuse that occurred in Hildebrandt’s home, including abuse perpetuated by Franke, at the feet of Hildebrandt noting in a statement...

Ms. Franke believed that Jodi Hildebrant had the insight to offer a path to continual improvement. Ms. Hildebrant took advantage of this quest and twisted it into something heinous. Over an extended period, Ms. Hildebrant systematically isolated Ruby Franke from her extended family, older children, and her husband, Kevin Franke. This prolonged isolation resulted in Ms. Franke being subjected to a distorted sense of morality, shaped by Ms. Hildebrandt’s influence ... it is [Winward Law’s] firm belief that Ms. Franke ... unfortunately was led astray.

In August, Franke and Hildebrandt were charged with six counts of felony child abuse.

On Aug. 30, a Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety Department release explains, a juvenile “emaciated and malnourished with open wounds and duct tape around the extremities” was reported to the department by a neighbor. The child had approached them asking for food and water. It was later revealed that this child was Franke’s 12-year-old son, who had climbed out a window to seek help. The “deep lacerations” were a result of having been tied up with rope.

The boy was taken a local hospital for treatment and talked to investigators, alleging that in addition to being denied food and bound, Hildebrandt would treat wounds resulting from abuse with “honey and cayenne pepper.” A search by the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) found the boy’s 10-year-old sister “in similar physical condition” in the home of Franke’s business partner Jodi Hildebrandt, from which the boy had escaped. All told, the four children still living with Franke were taken into the care of DCFS and both Franke and Hildebrandt were arrested in connection with the findings. The two are being held without bail by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and have been formally charged with six counts of felony child abuse, three charges for each child.

Randy Kester, a lawyer for Kevin Franke — who appeared in a number of his wife’s social media posts and videos — told ABC News that his client and Ruby Franke had been living separately for the past 13 months and that he is “distraught” by these allegations.

Horrifying details of Franke & Hildebrandt’s abuse were made public in their plea deals.

As part of both plea bargains, two counts (Counts 2 and 4) were dropped by the prosecution. Each count to which she has pled guilty carry a one to 15 year sentence, to be served consecutively. On December 18, Franke appeared briefly before Judge John Jay Walton alongside her counsel, LaMar Winward of Winward Law, voicing a guilty plea to Counts 1, 3, and 5. When Walton asked Franke how she pled to the last count (Count 6), Franke replied, “With my deepest regret and sorrow for my family and my children: guilty.” As part of her plea, Franke will testify against Hildebrandt.

Hildebrandt made her plea before Judge Walton on December 27 with her lawyer, Douglas Terry, who said his client pleaded guilty because she did not want Franke’s children to have to testify. Both women will be sentenced on Feb. 20, 2024.

Court documents detail chilling abuse that occurred over the course of months. One child, referred to as “RF,” in Franke’s plea deal, was subjected to depravation of food and water (“RF” was punished when he was found drinking water); intense physical labor, including outdoor work in extreme heat that resulted in “repeated and serious sunburn with blistered and sloughing skin”; social isolation; binding of hands and feet with ropes and handcuffs resulting in injury to skin and muscle; kicking the child while wearing boots; submerging their head under water; and depriving him of oxygen via periods of smothering. A second child, noted as “EF,” was subjected to the same general treatment as her brother, and was also made to run on dirt roads barefoot in the summer, resulting in injury. Both children were told the abuses were “acts of love,” undertaken because they were “evil” and “possessed.” For her part, “EF” believed these claims, and felt she needed to go through the abuse “in order to repent.”

In addition to corroborating claims made in Franke’s plea, Hildebrandt detailed further abuses; including forcing Franke’s youngest daughter (“EF”) to jump into a cactus multiple times and forced isolation from others.

Ruby Franke’s sisters and daughter have spoken out against her.

Franke’s sisters, Ellie Mecham and Julie Deru, who are themselves parenting influencers, have taken to Instagram to express their relief over this turn of events in a joint post.

“For the last 3 years we have kept quiet on the subject of our sister Ruby Franke for the sake for her children. Behind the public scene we have done everything we could to try and make sure the kids were safe,” they begin before concluding, “Ruby was arrested which needed to happen. Jodi was arrested which needed to happen. The kids are now safe, which is the number one priority.”

NBC News reports that Shari, the Frankes’ oldest (and estranged) daughter, posted a (now vanished) Instagram Story of her childhood home along with the word “Finally.” In a later Story, she wrote, “Me and my family are so glad justice is being served. We’ve been trying to tell the police and CPS for years about this, and so glad they finally decided to step up. Kids are safe, but there's a long road ahead. Please keep them in your prayers and also respect their privacy.”

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