By Amy Beth Hanson, The Associated Press on December 18, 2023.
A Utah mother of six who gave parenting advice via a once-popular YouTube channel called “8 Passengers” pleaded guilty Monday to four felony counts of second-degree aggravated child abuse for abusing and starving two of her children.
Ruby Franke, wearing gray and white jail clothing, pleaded guilty to each of the first three charges individually and on the fourth said: “With my deepest regret and sorrow for my family and my children, guilty.”
Judge John J. Walton accepted the plea agreement and scheduled sentencing for Feb. 20. The agreement leaves the sentencing up to the judge and does not rule out prison time, her attorney, LaMar Winward, acknowledged.
Winward Law announced in a statement Friday that the alleged abuse occurred while Ruby Franke was influenced by a relationship counselor who led her to “a distorted sense of morality.”
“Ruby Franke is a devoted mother and is also a woman committed to constant improvement,” Winward Law said in a statement. Franke initially believed that Jodi Hildebrandt “had the insight to offer a path to continual improvement,” but said that Hildebrandt “took advantage of this quest and twisted it into something heinous.”
Hildebrandt “systematically isolated Ruby Franke from her extended family, older children, and her husband, Kevin Franke,” the statement said.
Franke and Hildebrandt were arrested on Aug. 30 after Franke’s 12-year-old son escaped from Hildebrandt’s house in the southern Utah city of Ivins and asked a neighbor to call police, according to the 911 call released by the St. George Police Department.
The boy was emaciated and had duct tape around his ankles and wrists but wouldn’t say why, the caller reported.
“I think he’s been … he’s been detained,” the caller said, his voice breaking up. “He’s obviously covered in wounds.”
Franke’s 10-year-old daughter was also found at Hildebrandt’s house, court records said. Both children were taken to the hospital. Eventually, Franke’s four youngest children were taken into state custody.
Franke and Hildebrandt are each charged with six felony counts of aggravated child abuse. They have remained jailed since their arrests.
During Franke’s incarceration, “she has actively engaged in an introspection that has allowed her to reset her moral compass and understand the full weight of her actions. Ms. Franke is committed to taking responsibility for the part she played in the events leading up to her incarceration,” the statement said.
The 12-year-old boy told investigators that “Jodi” put the ropes on his ankles and wrists and that they used cayenne pepper and honey to dress the wounds caused by the ropes, according to a search warrant.
Kevin Franke has filed for divorce.
Hildebrandt has agreed not to see patients until the allegations are addressed by state licensing officials. Her next court hearing is set for Dec. 27, according to court records. Her attorney, Douglas Terry, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the allegations made against Hildebrandt in the statement by Franke’s attorney.
The Franke family was criticized online for its “8 Passengers” video blog showing parenting decisions including banning their oldest son from his bedroom for seven months for pranking his younger brother. In other videos, Ruby Franke talked about refusing to take lunch to a kindergartener who forgot it at home and threatening to cut the head off a young girl’s stuffed toy to punish her for cutting things in the house.
In one video, Franke said she and her husband told their two youngest children that they would not be getting presents from Santa Claus one year because they had been selfish and weren’t responding to punishment like being kept home from school and cleaning the floorboards.
The YouTube channel, which started in 2015, ended after seven years.