Utah’s Ruby Franke, 41, a mother of six and once revered for her parenting prowess on a YouTube channel, “8 Passengers,” alongside 54-year-old Jodi Hildebrandt, owner of a relationship counselling enterprise, were faced with their initial court appearance last Friday. The charges levelled against them include the alleged abuse and starvation of Franke’s two of her younger children.
However, court proceedings experienced an unusual delay, almost 45 minutes, as an overabundance of 1,300 viewers queued online for the virtually held hearing.
Both Franke and Hildebrandt, donning orange striped jailhouse clothing, appeared little expressive before Judge Eric Gentry through a video link. Their attorneys opted to waive the reading of the rather grave charges, six felony counts of aggravated child abuse, stemming from their arrest on Aug. 30, at Hildebrandt’s residence in Ivins, southern Utah. Pleas were not entered by the women.
The presiding Judge, Gentry, ordered both to be held without bail, scheduling their next hearings on Sept. 21. Concerning the bail aspect, their attorneys Lamar Winward and Douglas Terry mentioned intending to request bail hearings.
Due to the high level of public interest and participation, telephone lines were opened for listeners, alongside the admittance of about 50 spectators in the courtroom.
The charges came to light following Franke’s 12-year-old son’s escape from Hildebrandt’s home, his plea for help to a neighbor leading to a 911 distress call. The child was severely malnourished with physical restraints around his wrists and ankles.
Prosecutors claim that both women, in varying capacities, either were directly involved or aided in the torture and harm inflicted on Franke’s son and her 10-year-old daughter. In addition to physical trauma, both children were reportedly starved and emotionally scarred. The reason for children being at Hildebrandt’s remains unverified.
Both the 10 and 12-year-olds needed immediate hospitalization along with the consequent protection of child protective services that has since extended to two more of Franke’s children.
The infamous virtual hearing was fraught with live streams and conversations on Tiktok, mirroring public fascination, particularly in online circles where Franke’s unorthodox parenting style had already established her as a contentious figure.
Amid much controversy, Franke had been challenged for her parenting decisions shown on her video blogs. From banning her oldest son from his room for a prank on his sibling to refusing to pack lunch for a forgetful kindergartener – she drew significant criticism. One video even showed her threatening to decapitate a young girl’s beloved toy as a punishment.
The most notable disciplinary stance came when Franke declared to her two youngest children that Christmas will not include presents from Santa Claus. The children’s ignorance of punishment, she argued, reflected a numbness that required a significant momentum to be overturned.
Online critics initiated a petition calling upon child protective services to intervene. The YouTube channel was laid to rest in 2015 after seven years, and the oldest Franke off-spring, Sherri, severed ties with her parents.
Police records from Springville, Utah, reveal that Sherri Franke had reported her siblings’ abandonment on Sept. 18, 2022. She claimed they had been left on their own for multiple days. Subsequent attempts to establish contact with the children proved futile. However, Child and Family Services were informed of the situation.
In the following period, police visited an additional four times, with their visits extending to Oct. 3.
Hildebrandt, the co-defendant, owns ConneXions, a counselling business. Franke, it turns out, has been contributing to the same as a content provider for social media and podcasts. Following their charges, all videos featuring Franke and Hildebrandt were promptly removed from YouTube.
Finally, the state of Utah’s professional Licensing Division under the Department of Commerce, is working towards appropriate action on Hildebrandt’s clinical mental health counseling license, according to their spokesperson Melanie Hall.