Ruby Franke, a Utah mother of six who branded herself as a parenting expert and garnered millions of subscribers to her now-defunct YouTube channel “8 Passengers,” was arrested in southern Utah on child abuse charges.
While Franke, 41, and her business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, 54, were initially arrested on two counts of aggravated child abuse, the charges were later upgraded to six felony counts of aggravated child abuse. They were arrested at Hildebrandt’s home in Irvins, Utah, about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City. The Frankes live in Springville, Utah, about four hours north of Irvins.
Here’s how the case unfolded.
According to the Santa Clara-Irvins Public Safety Department, the arrests on Aug. 30 came after the department got a call about a juvenile in need of help. That juvenile turned out to be one of Franke’s 12-year-old sons, who police say escaped Hildebrandt’s home by climbing out of a window and running to a neighbor’s home for help.
Police say the boy showed up to the neighbor’s home with duct tape around his ankles and wrists and he was also “emaciated and malnourished.” According to multiple reports, the neighbor called 911 and said the boy told him that “what’s happened to him is his fault.” While waiting for paramedics and police to arrive, the neighbor gave the juvenile food and water.
The department said its officers eventually were led to Hildebrandt’s home, where another child — a 10-year-old girl — was found in a similar condition. The girl turned out to be Franke’s child as well. The juvenile boy and 10-year-old girl were then taken to a hospital, while two of Franke’s other children were taken by the Department of Child and Family Services.
Franke and Hildebrandt made a virtual court appearance on Sept. 8, which was delayed for nearly an hour after more than 1,300 people — mostly TikTokers — tried logging on to watch the virtual hearing. According to multiple reports, the women appeared via video from jail wearing orange jumpsuits. They did not enter a plea.
According to charging documents obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, Franke and Hildebrandt are accused of causing or permitting serious injury to the children in three different ways — through a combination of physical injuries or torture; through starvation or malnutrition that jeopardizes life; and by causing severe emotional harm.
The judge ordered the women to remain behind bars without bail. Their next hearing is set for Sept. 21.
The 911 Call
The St. George Police Department released the eerie 911 call, in which a neighbor appeared emotional while talking to the dispatcher.
“I just had a 12-year-old boy show up here in my front door asking for help,” the neighbor says.
He added, “We know there’s been problems at this neighbor’s house. He’s emaciated. He’s got tape around his legs. He’s hungry and he’s thirsty.”
Later during the call, the neighbor’s voice appeared to crack as if choking back tears.
“He asked us to call the police. So, he’s very afraid,” the neighbor says before taking deep breaths. “This kid has obviously been [breathing hard] … I think he’s been, I think he’s been detained. He’s obviously covered in wounds. We need the cops here as soon as possible.”
First responders, via radio communication, then described the boy’s wounds, saying he has “sores” all over his body.
Prosecutors allege Franke and Hildebrandt either caused or allowed someone to torture the two starving children. They further allege Franke was seen filming in the home days before the arrest, meaning she had to have been aware of the children’s deteriorating condition.
Franke built a strong following on social media due to her so-called strict and no-nonsense parenting approach. But she’s come under fire multiple times. In one TikTok video she posted, Franke says her kids “are literally starving” because she wouldn’t feed them breakfast until they completed their chores.
Franke also came under fire after posting on social media that she refused to take her kindergartner lunch after the child forgot it at home. She said in the video that she told her daughter’s teacher she would not be bringing her lunch in hopes of teaching her a lesson.
“I know that her teacher is uncomfortable with her being hungry and not having a lunch and it would ease her discomfort if I came to the school with a lunch,” Franke says on video. “But I responded and just said Eve is responsible for making her lunches in the morning and she actually told me she did pack a lunch, so the natural outcome is she’s just going to need to be hungry. And hopefully nobody gives her food and nobody steps in and gives her a lunch because then she’s not going to learn from the natural outcome.”
In another video, Franke shared that she and her husband, Kevin, told their two youngest children they wouldn’t be getting any Christmas presents because they were selfish and weren’t responding to punishment. The Franke’s share six children — Shari, Chad, Abby, Julie, Russell and Eve.
“It’s because they’re so numb, and the more numb your child is, the bigger the outcome they need to wake them up,” Franke said in video she shared on social media.
Franke launched her “8 Passengers” YouTube channel in 2015, where she chronicled the Mormon family’s activities, her parenting style and home renovations, among other things. YouTube removed Franke’s channel in wake of her arrest.
According to her website, Hildebrandt is the founder ConneXions Classroom, which offers counseling services. Her bio lists her as receiving a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in educational psychology, though she doesn’t list where she earned the degrees.
Franke eventually joined Hildebrandt as co-host of a parenting advice podcast. According to People, clips have since resurfaced online, in which the co-hosts spout xenophobic views, downplay eating disorders and blame rape victims.
While he was not arrested and is not in the crosshairs of the authorities (though his whereabouts on the day of his wife’s arrest remain unclear), Franke’s husband, Kevin, is no stranger to controversy.
In 2020, Kevin was criticized after he and Franke forced their oldest son to sleep in a beanbag for nearly seven months after they banned him from his bedroom.
According to Business Insider, the teen said he got banned from his bedroom after playing a prank on his younger brother. One of the pranks included getting the younger brother to pack a suitcase for a fake trip to Disneyland.
On Sept. 6, Kevin’s lawyer, Randy Kester, went on Good Morning America and insisted Kevin played no role in the abuse that led to his wife and Hildebrandt’s arrest.
“He is a good person. He is very gentle,” Kester said. “And no one’s ever made any allegations that he’s ever physically abused those kids, or anyone else.”
The attorney added, “He just wants to do what’s best for his kids, get them back, get them under his tutelage and his fathership and protect them.”
The Estranged Daughter
Shari, the eldest daughter, has been estranged from her mother for some time now. In fact, Shari took to her Instagram Story and celebrated her mother’s arrest.
“Today has been a big day. Me and my family are so glad justice is being served,” she said in the since-expired post. “We’ve been trying to tell the police and CPS for years about this, and so glad they finally decided to step up.”
Shari also posted a photo of police officers outside the family home. She captioned the post, “finally.”
Franke’s sisters — Ellie Mecham, Bonnie Hoellein and Julie Deru — shared a joint statement on social media following the arrest.
“For the last 3 years we have kept quiet on the subject of our sister Ruby Franke for the sake of her children,” the statement read. “Behind the public scene we have done everything we could to try and make sure the kids were safe. We wouldn’t feel right about moving forward with regular content without addressing the most recent events.
“Once we do, we will not be commenting on it further,” the statement continued. “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.”
In a since-deleted YouTube video, Hoellein said family members tried to intervene before Franke’s arrest.
“My sisters and I, we are on the very same page, and for the last three years we have truly clung onto each other, offering support to one another, and I don’t think any of us could have ever seen this coming,” she said. “We all did as much as we could legally, and you don’t know what you don’t know.”
A neighbor who lived next to the Frankes for about five years — and who spoke to People on condition of anonymity — noticed red flags long before Franke’s arrest.
“I think we saw some weird things,” the neighbor said. “But I don’t think anybody thought that these kids were being physically abused to that degree.”
One of the biggest red flags, the neighbor said, came last year when the family’s two youngest children went from paling around the neighborhood to suddenly disappearing from public view.
“She really started isolating her kids,” the neighbor said. “We saw their presence in the neighborhood almost daily, and then we just quit seeing the youngest two around. That was a big change. For most of us, it didn’t point to criminal behavior. It was just curious. Like, what happened there?”
The Chilling History
According to CBS affiliate KUTV in Springville, Utah, police received more than a dozen phone calls to two homes owned by the Frankes. The station also reported that DCFS workers responded to the home four times in 2022 and 2023.
In one instance, a DCFS worker called police on April 16, 2022 and told them Franke “was made aware of two kids running out in the road unsupervised.”
Five months later, Shari called police requesting a welfare check because “her sisters and brothers had been left home alone while their mother was in St. George with her friend.” Shari said a neighbor told her the kids had been left home alone for five days. The outlet reported police arrived at the home and saw the kids “through the windows but would not answer the door.”
According to police, neighbors told them about instances when Franke would “leave her children home for extended periods of time and go to St. George to spend time with her friend Jodi (Hildebrandt).”
If you suspect child abuse, call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org.