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Ruby Franke gained millions of subscribers to her parental advice YouTube. She’s now facing jail for child abuse

Former family vlogger Ruby Franke is due to be sentenced this week (NBC/YouTube Screengrab)
Former family vlogger Ruby Franke is due to be sentenced this week (NBC/YouTube Screengrab)

Former family vlogger Ruby Franke was sentenced to up to 60 years in prison on child abuse charges on Tuesday. Her former business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, received the same sentence as Ms Franke.

“With my deepest regret and sorrow for my family and my children, guilty,” Ms Franke said as she stood before a judge in December, pleading guilty to a fourth count of aggravated child abuse.

Ms Franke was handed four one- to fifteen-year sentences in prison, one for each of the four counts of child abuse to which she pleaded guilty back in December.

The woman, who once ran a channel documenting her family’s life and even gave online parental advice, broke down in tears on Tuesday as she addressed the court, moments before a Utah judge sentenced her to jail.

“I’ll never stop crying for hurting your tender souls,” Franke said to her children, who were not at the sentencing hearing. “My willingness to sacrifice all for you was masterfully manipulated into something very ugly. I took from you all that was soft and safe and good.”

Franke told judge John Walton that she would not argue for a shorter sentence, before she thanked local police officers, doctors and social workers for being the “angels” who saved her children from her at a time that she claims she was under the influence of Hildebrandt.

“I was led to believe the world was an evil place,” Franke said. “For the past four years, I have chosen to follow counsel and guidance that have led me to a dark delusion.”

Franke and Hildebrandt had each pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse after the two women physically and emotionally abused Franke’s two youngest children.

Among the abuse, they sought to convince the children that they were evil, possessed and needed to be punished to repent.

While viewers were often concerned about the couple’s harsh parenting styles on their channel “8 Passengers”, such as handing out punishments, including the withholding of food and Christmas presents, it was not until August 2023 that Franke found herself in custody after some of her children were discovered in unimaginable conditions.

Franke’s 12-year-old son allegedly escaped Hildebrandt’s home last summer and was found with wounds and was emaciated; his sister was later found in a similar condition.

On 18 December, Ms Franke pleaded guilty to four counts of second-degree aggravated child abuse with the two other charges having been dismissed. Hildebrandt also pled guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse nine days later.

Franke gained attention over the years for her YouTube channel 8 Passengers, which was focused on sharing parental advice as well as family vlogs featuring the 41-year-old mother, her husband, Kevin Franke, and six children.

The couple first founded their now-deleted channel back in 2015 and accumulated over two million subscribers before speculation began to mount in 2020 about their activities.

The channel eventually was deleted, but Franke joined forces with another YouTuber, Jodi Hildebrandt, 54, to dish out their parenting advice and mental wellbeing tips in videos.

But how did the parental-advice-giving family vlogger end up in custody for these charges, what role did Ms Hildebrandt play, and where was her husband when all of this was going down?

Here’s everything we know about the case of Ruby Franke:

Children ‘malnourished’ with ‘open wounds’

On the morning of 30 August, Franke’s 12-year-old son climbed out of the window of Hildebrandt’s home, escaped the property and ran over to a neighbour’s house asking for food and water, according to arrest records.

The caller told officials that the boy appeared to be “emaciated” and “malnourished” and had open wounds and “duct tape around the extremities”, the Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety said.

Arrest records noted that the boy had “deep lacerations” due to “being tied up with rope”. Authorities said that the 12-year-old’s condition was “so severe” he was seen by emergency responders and was taken to hospital.

Following this, police received information that other children may also be at risk at Hildebrandt’s home.

Officers arrived at the home and carried out a search, where they found another child, a 10-year-old girl, in a “similar physical condition of malnourishment” and was also transported by EMS to hospital for treatment.

Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety said that the Department of Child and Family Services was contacted, and four minor children were taken into the agency’s care.

Franke and Hildebrandt were then both arrested that same day and later charged with six felony counts of aggravated child abuse.

The affidavit acknowledged that two days before the incident, “Ruby Franke was seen on a YouTube video filmed in Mr Hildebrandt’s downstairs”, which showcased that the women were “present in the home and having knowledge of the abuse, malnourishment, and neglect”.

The 12-year-old boy later told police that Hildebrandt would put cayenne pepper and honey on their wounds that were caused by being tied with the rope, warrants detailed.

The warrant also revealed that officers found “Scotch Tape and Saran wrap”, as well as papers, notes, a journal, two bowls containing a red liquid with a metal spoon, two super absorbent dressings, two “Coban bandages” with four white ankle socks, three sets of “a brown and white rope”, two handcuffs and three carabiners.

The second search warrant revealed that three Apple iPhones and four Apple MacBooks were seized.

Officers also allegedly found a “possible safe room” in the basement of Hildebrandt’s home, records state.

Appearances in court

Franke and Hildebrandt appeared in court for the first time on 8 September, which later was sent into chaos due to over 1,000 people tuning into the livestream, and were told to quiet down numerous times.

The two women were being held without bail, and Franke, at that time, had reportedly been moved to the medical unit of the jail, but for unknown reasons.

“There are two juvenile victims in these cases, and each defendant is accused of causing or permitting serious physical injury to the victims in three different ways: (1) a combination of multiple physical injuries or torture, (2) starvation or malnutrition that jeopardises life, and (3) causing severe emotional harm,” the county attorney said.

Ruby Franke’s appearance in court after her arrest for alleged child abuse (Utah Fifth District Court)
Ruby Franke’s appearance in court after her arrest for alleged child abuse (Utah Fifth District Court)

Franke also appeared in juvenile court via video call the day before for a shelter hearing for her four minor children when she made a shocking claim about one of her children.

She alleged that one of her children had been sexually abusing a younger sibling and had confessed in the past to sexually abusing 20 people, she said, according to a report bythe Daily Mail.

In response, the judge said this child “will then need to be placed in a home with no other children”.

A plea deal

Franke’s lawyers shared a statement in mid-December that they would enter a plea agreement on her charges, saying they wanted to “resolve this matter quickly”.

The statement, put out by Winward Law, is the first time Franke and her legal team have acknowledged her charges and said that Franke was a “devoted mother” and “committed to constant improvement”.

It also added that they believed Hildebrandt “took advantage” of Franke’s “quest” for improvement and “twisted it into something heinous”.

“Over an extended period, 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,” the statement said.

They said she is also committed to helping their children reunite with their father.

“Despite the pain, she respects his decisions and remains hopeful that, with time, she can contribute to rebuilding trust and fostering understanding within their family,” the statement added.

Disturbing details

Franke admitted to a number of horrific acts in a statement filed in court to support her guilty pleas, which said she abused two of her children from 22 May until her arrest.

She said that she tried to convince her children that they were evil and possessed and that the “punishments” were a form of repentance. She described the abuse as “acts of love”.

The mother admitted in her statement that her “actions involved the physical torture” of her son. Horrific details revealed that she forced the boy into long physical tasks outside in summer without shoes or adequate water, leaving him with “repeated and serious sunburns”.

He was also denied sufficient food, and when he was given food, they were very plain meals, while the rest of the household got more flavorful food, the plea agreement said.

Franke admitted to kicking her son while wearing boots, holding his head underwater, and using ropes to tie together handcuffs that were around his hands and feet while he lay on his stomach to lift his arms and legs off the ground, resulting in injuries, the statement said.

Her son was kept isolated from other people and denied entertainment like books, notebooks and electronics.

Franke’s nine-year-old daughter was also a victim of these “punishments”, admitting in the statement that the girl was forced to work outside, run on dirt roads barefoot “for extended periods of time”, and go without food and water.

Kevin Franke denies knowing and files for divorce

Kevin Franke broke his silence over a month after his wife was arrested, claiming he was estranged from Ruby Franke and his family and had no knowledge that the alleged child abuse was happening.

The husband, who also appeared frequently on 8 Passengers, said that at the point of Ms Franke’s arrest, he was separated from his wife for 13 months and had no contact with his children during that time, Randy Kester, Mr Franke’s attorney, told Law&Crime.

He claimed that Hildebrandt had some part to play in his estrangement, saying his dynamic with his wife changed after the two women became business partners.

He said Hildebrandt “manipulated” him and “destroyed his family”.

Franke allegedly told her husband that they both needed to work on their marriage, but that it would be better if he moved out and did not communicate with the children.

As for the alleged child abuse, “Kevin never had any reason to believe that his children were being abused,” Mr Kester claimed.

“He’s a good dad. He just simply does not condone physical violence or that kind of treatment of children or anyone,” he added.

The attorney said that Mr Kester is working on getting back custody of his younger children while his wife remains behind bars.

Mr Franke was, however, trying to get his oldest daughter, 20-year-old Shari Franke, arrested for stealing electronics and passports two days after the child abuse arrests, saying she was not lawfully allowed in their home.

Shari, who cut ties with her parents a while before the arrests, said she was unaware she wasn’t able to come back to her parent’s house and return the items, according to a report obtained by Fox News.

Her father allegedly threatened to sue the police department because she was not charged with anything.

Mr Franke has since also filed for divorce from his wife.

In a statement Ms Franke’s lawyers, Winward Law, said she was “devastated” by Kevin Franke’s request for divorce but understood why he would.

In a domestic relations injunction obtained by NBC News, Kevin Franke filed for divorce in the 4th District Court of Utah in early December.

The filing means the two parties are prohibited from harassing each other, committing domestic violence against each other or their children or disparaging each other to their kids, according to the injunction.

The injunction is effective until a divorce is finalised, the petition is dismissed, or the parties agree to dissolve it.

Ahead of his wife’s sentencing, he called for her to face lengthy prison time.

“We trust the judge to sentence them both to one to fifteen years for each of the four counts, to run consecutively, and then let the Utah State Board of Pardons decide if that should be shortened or other conditions imposed,” according to a statement Mr Franke’s attorney shared with Law&Crime.

Concerns over 8 Passengers

Mr and Mrs Franke both received criticism over the years from viewers on parenting decisions they documented on their channel.

This included banning their oldest son from his bedroom for seven months for pranking his younger brother and Franke refusing to take lunch to a kindergartener who forgot it at home.

Jodi Hildebrandt and Ruby Franke in a video on their Instagram (Instagram/Moms of Truth)
Jodi Hildebrandt and Ruby Franke in a video on their Instagram (Instagram/Moms of Truth)

Other incidents that raised alarm bells for viewers was the parents telling their two youngest children that they would not be getting presents from Santa Claus for being selfish and withholding food from their children.

Their actions on the channel prompted viewers to create an online petition in 2020 after they saw this incident and other examples of harsh punishments, prompting child services to be called.

Shari Franke also called the police on her parents in September 2022, around a year before her mother was arrested, to report her brothers and sisters had been left home alone for days, according to police reports.

Records show officers stopped by the house four more times from 22 September to 3 October.

‘Justice is being served’ 

Following her mother’s arrest, Shari Franke, 20, took to Instagram to make several statements about the situation, notably posting a photo of a police car and an officer and writing: “Finally”.

“Me and my family are so glad justice is being served,” she wrote in another post. “We’ve been trying to tell the police and CPS for years about this, and so glad they decided to finally step up. Kids are safe, but there’s a long road ahead.”

Ms Franke’s sisters, Ellie Mecham, Julie Deru and Bonnie Hoellein, released a statement saying that, for the last three years, they have kept “quiet” on the subject of their sibling “for the sake of her children”.

The post said: “For the last 3 years, we have kept quiet on the subject of our sister Ruby Franke for the sake of her children. Behind the public scene, we have done everything we could to try and make sure the kids were safe.

“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.”

The Sentencing

Franke was handed four one- to fifteen-year sentences in prison, one for each of the four counts of child abuse to which she pleaded guilty back in December. Hildebrandt received the same sentence as Franke.

They will now serve their sentences consecutively, as determined by their plea agreements.

While they could be given four to 60 years in prison, the women will only serve up to 30 years in prison due to a Utah state law that caps the sentence duration for consecutive penalties. The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole will consider their behaviour while incarcerated and determine how much of that time each will spend behind bars.

At Hildebrandt’s sentencing, which was held shortly after Franke’s, the prosecution called Hildebrandt a “risk to the community” and said she had shown no remorse for her actions.

Hildebrandt gave a short statement insisting that “I sincerely love these children”.

“One of the reasons I didn’t go to trial is I didn’t want them to relive this. I desire for them to heal physically and emotionally,” she said.

Hildebrandt’s attorney, Douglas Terry told the court: “My experience with Ms Hildebrandt is she is not the person she has been portrayed to be.”

Judge Walton then spoke directly to Hildebrandt before imposing the sentence.

“This circumstance is largely of your making. Your conduct was disastrous for these children. In this case, you terrorised children,” the judge said.