Who is Ruby Franke? Everything we know about the family vlogger’s rise to fame before child abuse charges

Who is Ruby Franke? Everything we know about the family vlogger’s rise to fame before child abuse charges

Ruby Franke, a Utah mother of six, who once operated her own YouTube channel about her life, was sentenced to prison two months after pleading guilty to a number of child abuse charges.

Franke first made headlines back in 2015 for her controversial parenting advice shared on the YouTube channel 8 Passengers, which featured her husband Kevin Franke and their children: Shari, Chad, Abby, Julie, Russell, and Eve. The now-deleted channel was once popular, having accumulated more than two million subscribers before speculation and concern began to mount in 2020 about the family’s daily activities.

Two years later, the Utah-based mother went on to announce that she was joining a new YouTube channel called ConneXions – which has since been deleted – alongside Jodi Nan Hildebrandt. The pair also sparked controversy with their videos, including one in which they made claims about what loving children unconditionally means.

In August, both Franke and Hildebrandt were arrested after Franke’s 12-year-old son escaped from Hildebrandt’s house and ran to a neighbour who called 911. The boy was malnourished and had visible injuries with duct tape on his limbs.

The boy would later tell investigators that Hildebrandt would put cayenne pepper and honey on wounds that were caused by being tied with the rope, according to arrest warrants.

In a press release, the Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety Department explained that, based on the evidence gathered, officers proceeded to a nearby residence where they discovered another juvenile in a comparable condition.

Two of Franke’s children were taken to a hospital for medical treatment, according to court documents. Those children, along with Franke’s other children, were placed into the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services.

Following her arrest, Franke’s family, including her daughter, made several statements about the situation, including that they are “so glad justice is being served”.

Here’s everything we know about Franke’s rise to fame on YouTube, her arrest, and her sentencing.

Who is Ruby Franke?

In January 2015, Franke first launched the 8 Passengers YouTube channel, which highlighted her family’s life in Springville, Utah. One year after sharing the channel, she told local news station KSL that her page was a way for her to just “let [her] heart rate come down and to just enjoy being with the kids as they are right now”. She also expressed that, as her children were getting older, she gained an even bigger perspective about why her family was so important.

“I just want women who are still nursing babies, women who are still trying to get their families, women who are not sleeping through the night to see what it looks like at the finish line, to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s beautiful and it’s powerful and it’s worth it, it’s worth all the effort that families put into their family,” she said at the time.

After making headlines for her videos about her controversial parenting choices, which racked up millions of views, she went on to become a part of ConneXions, in which she and Hildebrandt gave daily advice. The now-deleted YouTube channel, which Franke joined in June 2022, had more than 4,800 subscribers, with videos also racking up thousands of views.

How have her parenting choices sparked controversy online?

Following her rise to fame with 8 Passengers, Franke went on to spark criticism after she said in a video that one of her sons, Chad, had been sleeping in a beanbag for seven months, after playing a prank on his sibling. In June 2020, concerned viewers contacted local child protective services, with a Change.Org petition created to encourage a CPS Investigation of 8 Passengers.

Amid the backlash, Franke told Insider at the time the sleeping arrangement was Chad’s “choice” after he stopped sharing a room with his younger brother amid behavioural concerns. A letter from DCFS, seen by Insider, said the claims were unsupported and that the case – which alleged that Franke was the perpetrator – was closed.

In August 2022, she also faced criticism for refusing to bring lunch to her then six-year-old, after her daughter said she’d packed food but had actually forgotten it. Franke alleged that she didn’t want anyone to give her daughter lunch, since she wanted the child to realise how “painful” it is to be hungry all day, so she’ll “make sure to always pack a lunch”.

“As a teacher, I’d be filing a report if a parent had this reaction to me asking them to fulfil basic needs,” one person responded to Franke’s comments, which were shared on TikTok.

“‘My hope is it will be painful all day’. No ma’am,” another commented, while a third wrote: “Kids can’t learn if they’re too hungry or tired!! Most schools will have a sandwich or something, even if you forget one or something.”

Franke and Hildebrandt’s joint channel has also sparked outrage. In December 2022, they shared a now-deleted video about “the concept of love”, and gave examples in which they claimed children allegedly don’t love their family unconditionally.

The Utah-based mother claimed that if her child doesn’t “love” or “trust” her, after offering them “the gift of truth,” then they are “refusing to love unconditionally”. She alleged: “If my child will only love me if I give them what they want, then that’s not really love, is it?”

What are the accusations against Franke amid her arrest?

On 31 August, Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety said in a statement that it had received a report regarding a “juvenile asking for help”. The caller told officials that the child appeared to be “emaciated” and “malnourished” and had open wounds and “duct tape around the extremities”.

After another child was found in “similar physical condition of malnourishment,” 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.

Along with Franke, Hildebrandt was also arrested. “Due to the sensitive nature of this case, no additional information will be released at this time,” officials said in the statement.

The charging documents accuse both women of causing or permitting serious injury to two of Franke’s children in three different ways, according to the Washington County attorney’s office. This includes through a combination of physical injuries or torture; through starvation or malnutrition that jeopardises life; and by causing severe emotional harm.

The alleged abuse adds up to the six aggravated child abuse counts each woman faces. Each count carries a sentence of one to fifteen years in prison, and a fine up to $10,000.

Springville Police Department records later revealed that the authorities had responded to Franke’s home numerous times over the years, twice regarding the welfare of her children.

The most recent check was on 18 September 2022, when her daughter Shari Franke reported to the police that her sisters and brother had been left home alone for five days while her mother visited a friend in St. George, the Salt Lake Tribune reported, according to court documents.

The daughter called for a welfare check on the children and asked police to make sure they had enough food “for the extended period.”

But when the police responded to the home, the children would not answer the door. They were able to see the children through the window.

There are several other reports from neighbours who told police video cameras on their property showed that Franke’s car would be continuously gone for four days or more.

“Everyone who came to the scene was very concerned about the children and them being left at home alone,” an officer wrote in a police report.

“[They] expressed great concern about the two youngest children being homeschooled while the two older ones go to public school. Mostly because it shows they are home alone during the day by themselves, and there isn’t any way for them to contact emergency services if needed.”

An earlier incident was reported on 16 April 2022, according to the documents, in which a DCFS caseworker alerted police that two unsupervised children were running in the street near Franke’s Springville home. But the officer who responded to the house said he did not see any children in the street.

What did her family say about her arrest?

Following her mother’s arrest, Shari Franke, 20, took to Instagram to make several statements about the situation. She started off by posting a photo of a police car and an officer, as she wrote: “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.”

Shari also created a document asking followers to share “questionable” or “concerning” information about ConneXions or 8 Passengers.

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 siblings “for the sake of her children”.

They went on to say that they tried everything they could to ensure the children were safe.

The post said: “For the last three 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. 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.”

Disturbing details revealed

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 flavourful 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.

Ruby Franke learns her fate

In February, Franke was handed four one to 15-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.

Before the judge handed down the sentence, Franke gave a statement to the court in which she gave a tearful apology to her children for physically and emotionally abusing them.

“I’ll never stop crying for hurting your tender souls,” Franke said to her children, who were not at the 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.”

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.