Inside the world of the US millionaire mommy vlogger who ‘tortured’ her children in ‘concentration camp’ home while making a fortune from parenting videos

Photo of author
Written By Maya Cantina

The call to emergency services came just after 11am on August 30 last year. The man’s voice on the tape can be clearly heard faltering and cracking as he holds back tears.

A terrified 12-year-old boy had just turned up at his home, he said.

‘He’s got [duct] tape around his ankles and his wrists. He’s hungry, he’s thirsty. He’s very afraid. This kid has obviously been detained – he’s covered in wounds,’ the caller said.

‘This kid’ was the youngest son of his neighbour, Ruby Franke, then living in an affluent suburb of ‘Mormon County’ Utah, in the US.

Franke had moved to the luxurious, $5.3million (£4.2million), five-bed, six-bathroom home with a five-car garage, hot tub, swimming pool and sweeping gardens, following the break-up of her marriage the previous year.

Ruby Franke, 42, right, was a successful ‘mommy’ video blogger and YouTube parenting expert. Jodi Hildebrandt, 54, was a licenced mental health counsellor and life coach

Franke had six children with estranged husband Kevin. The children were regularly denied food and water, forced to do hard manual labour in bare feet, kicked and held underwater, and told they were ‘possessed’ and ‘evil’

Franke had six children with estranged husband Kevin. The children were regularly denied food and water, forced to do hard manual labour in bare feet, kicked and held underwater, and told they were ‘possessed’ and ‘evil’

The property was owned by her mentor and business partner Jodi Hildebrandt, a licenced mental health counsellor and life coach, and was the last word in luxury.

The pair had worked hard for their good fortune: Franke, 42, was a highly successful ‘mommy’ video blogger and YouTube parenting expert, whose channel, at its height, attracted 2.3million subscribers – earning the family an estimated $5million (£4million) over eight years from sponsored content, YouTube adverts and clothing sales.

Hildebrandt, 54, a divorced mother of two, charged clients up to $3,000 (£2,400) a month for her services. Together, the two women ran a separate YouTube channel and podcast called ConneXions, offering parenting and lifestyle advice.

But, for all their so-called ‘expertise’, terrible acts of cruelty had been going on behind the veneer of wholesome, happy family life peddled on social media, cruelty that was exposed when Franke’s emaciated and traumatised son fled to a nearby house, pleading for help.

This week Franke and Hildebrandt admitted aggravated child abuse charges and were each sentenced to up to 60 years in prison for the ‘concentration camp-like setting’ in which they had held the boy and his equally malnourished and frightened little sister.

A shocked court room heard how the children were regularly denied food and water, forced to do hard manual labour in bare feet, kicked and held underwater, and told they were ‘possessed’ and ‘evil’ and needed to accept punishment as an ‘act of love’.

‘I’ve had many strange cases in my career in family law, but this one is right at the top,’ attorney Randy Kessler, who represents Franke’s estranged husband Kevin, the father of the couple’s six children, told the Mail.

‘They had a bizarre mindset that just destroyed people. It was all about breaking people down, deflating their egos, humbling them and disciplining them. It was totally destructive.’

Ruby Franke and her husband Kevin's Springville, Utah, home

Ruby Franke and her husband Kevin’s Springville, Utah, home

Franke was charged with intentionally inflicting and knowingly allowing another adult to inflict serious physical injuries on her two youngest children that prosecutors described as ‘torture’.

Her son was made to carry boxes of books up and down stairs and forced to do outside labour without shoes and in the summer heat, resulting in serious sunburn and blistered skin.

He was punished when he secretly consumed water, given plain food like rice and chicken while others in the house ate tasty meals, and was isolated from other people and denied all forms of entertainment such as books, TV and electronics.

After he attempted to run away, his hands and feet were regularly bound, sometimes with handcuffs, ropes or duct tape.

Franke kicked him while wearing boots, held his head underwater and placed her hands over his mouth and nose.

Franke’s younger daughter was subjected to the same treatment, isolated and forced to do physical tasks, remain outside and denied food and water. She was also told repeatedly by the two women that she was evil and possessed and needed to go through punishments in order to repent, according to the charges laid by prosecutors.

The little girl was forced to run barefoot on dirt roads for extended periods of time – when she was examined by doctors her feet were covered with scabs and blisters – and was forced to jump into a cactus several times.

The roots of this disturbing case go back to 2015 when Franke launched a video blog documenting her and husband Kevin’s tough love parenting style on a YouTube channel called 8 Passengers, named after her, Kevin and their six children, now aged between 21 and ten.

Franke (pictured) and Hildebrandt admitted aggravated child abuse charges and were each sentenced to up to 60 years in prison for the ‘concentration camp-like setting’ in which they had held the boy and his equally malnourished little sister

Franke (pictured) and Hildebrandt admitted aggravated child abuse charges and were each sentenced to up to 60 years in prison for the ‘concentration camp-like setting’ in which they had held the boy and his equally malnourished little sister

Hildebrandt said one of the reasons she pleaded guilty, and did not go to trial, was that she did not want the youngsters to relive the experience

Hildebrandt said one of the reasons she pleaded guilty, and did not go to trial, was that she did not want the youngsters to relive the experience

It was wildly popular at first, but Franke’s strict parenting style began to draw criticism. In a 2020 video, the ‘mumfluencer’s’ teenage son revealed he was forced to sleep on a beanbag for seven months as a punishment for playing a prank on his brother.

In another video, shot as Franke sat in her car, she detailed how she was ignoring a message from her youngest daughter’s teacher, saying the then six-year-old had forgotten her packed lunch.

‘My hope is that she will be hungry and come home and say “that was really painful being hungry all day, and I’ll make sure to always have a lunch with me,”’ Franke said.

In a video posted later the same day Franke and her husband told concerned viewers the little girl was fed as soon as she returned home from school.

Another of the 1,000-plus videos of her family that Franke posted showed the children being made to mop floors, a punishment meant to ‘really bring pain’ but which ‘didn’t work because they enjoyed it too much’.

One of the most controversial episodes was when Franke said her two youngest children would be receiving only one gift at Christmas – a card called The Gift of Truth – because of their ‘long patterns of selfishness and egregious behaviour’.

The card would contain a list of attributes that would help the children set boundaries and repent for their selfishness, Franke claimed.

The episodes became so alarming that 18,000 people signed a petition asking Utah’s Division of Child and Family Services to investigate. They conducted a home visit the following month but found the children physically unharmed.

In an angry video, Franke posted she was ‘very aware of people online that hate me and want to cancel me, or who would like to see me burn in hell or disappear off the face of the earth.’ She added: ‘I’m not going anywhere.’

In 2022 the Frankes began marriage counselling with Hildebrandt – it is believed Ruby Franke found her future mentor online – yet decided to split up the following year.

Hildebrandt, who has a master’s degree in educational psychology, had been a licensed clinical mental health counsellor since 2003, offering life-coaching and counselling services for marriage problems and addiction.

Yet, she was no stranger to controversy herself. In 2012, she’d been put on a period of professional probation for discussing a male patient with an alleged porn addiction with leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and Brigham Young University without her client’s permission.

Former patients described her as over-authoritative and aggressive and said that she operated her business like a multi-level marketing scheme, urging patients to recommend her to family and friends.

‘Jodi was a powerful LDS voice, and religious people in authority regularly recommended her counselling services to people in need,’ says Jamie Belnap, a therapist who works in private practice in Heber City, Utah, and who followed the case closely.

‘It’s hard to describe to someone who doesn’t understand the Mormon religion how significant the level of trust is for people in authority. Jodi capitalised on this. She made people believe she knew what was “right” and what was “wrong”.’

Franke was charged with intentionally inflicting and knowingly allowing another adult to inflict serious physical injuries on her two youngest children that prosecutors described as ‘torture’

Franke was charged with intentionally inflicting and knowingly allowing another adult to inflict serious physical injuries on her two youngest children that prosecutors described as ‘torture’

Hildebrandt convinced Franke and her husband last year that they should separate for a year, and Kevin left the family home

Hildebrandt convinced Franke and her husband last year that they should separate for a year, and Kevin left the family home

In her role as a mental health provider, Hildebrandt had numerous group client sessions for men and women, says Kessler.

‘With the men, she told them they were sinful, lustful and had too much ego, and that she had to break them down before they could return to their families,’ he says.

‘She reinforced that with the women’s groups too, pointing out their faults, and making them feel worthless and subservient, before saying she would build them back up again.’

The attorney said Hildebrandt convinced Franke and her husband last year that they should separate for a year, and Kevin left the family home.

It should be stressed that he has not faced any charges, has filed for divorce from his wife and hopes to regain custody of his four younger children who are in care.

Following the onslaught of criticism, Franke closed the 8 Passengers channel in 2022 and joined forces with Hildebrandt on ConneXions where she was listed as a ‘mental fitness trainer’.

The pair also started a Facebook group called Moms of Truth and garnered 13,000 followers.

Meanwhile, neighbours were concerned that Franke’s four youngest children were often left alone at the family home in Springfield after their father moved out and Franke began to spend more time with Hildebrandt.

Eldest daughter Shari, who had cut ties with her family in 2022, told police that on one occasion her sisters and brother had been left alone for five days.

Franke began taking the two youngest children to Hildebrandt’s home – until that day in August, last year, when the youngest boy decided he’d had enough.

Both women were charged with multiple counts of aggravated child abuse.

Franke has three sisters, two of whom – Ellie Mecham and Bonnie Hoellein – are also social media stars, documenting their families’ lives, with 549,000 and 315,000 followers respectively.

After Franke and Hildebrandt’s arrest, Hoellein posted a video insisting the family had done ‘as much as they could’ to protect the children but they had been shut out.

‘I knew they were weird. I knew they were off. Those are the things that we kept quiet about because what was I gonna say? What was I gonna do? I was not going to come out publicly and say that I don’t like my sister. I am not my sister. I am not my sister’s mistakes.’

In the run-up to sentencing, Franke’s brother Beau Griffiths wrote a letter to the judge hearing the case, detailing his experiences with ConneXions, which he said he was roped into.

‘The program was by all definitions a cult,’ he wrote. ‘Ms Hildebrandt… discouraged people from making their own life choices. A recurring theme was the principle of separation and isolation. I personally witnessed numerous marriage relationships separated through Ms Hildebrandt’s encouragement including, for a time, my own.

‘In Ruby’s case, I believe Ms Hildebrandt wanted Ruby’s platform and influence for her own gain.’

Franke’s parents Chad and Jennifer Griffiths also wrote to the judge in the hope of getting a lighter sentence for their daughter.

Writing from Serbia where they are on a Mormon mission, they said they noticed a shift in Ruby’s thinking in the summer of 2020 when she cut off all ties to them, her siblings and close friends.

‘She was delusional. She was so deeply brainwashed we could not recognise her,’ they said.

In a bizarre pre-sentencing statement, Franke expressed her regret and remorse.

‘I was led to believe this world is an evil place – filled with cops who control, hospitals that injure, government agencies that brainwash, church leaders who lie and lust, husbands who refuse to protect children and children who need [to be] abused. My choice to believe and behave this paranoia culminated into criminal activity, for which I stand before you ready to take accountability.’

Starting to cry, she addressed her children. ‘To my babies, my six little chicks. I can see now that over the past four years I was in a deep undercurrent that led us to danger. I would never have led you to darkness knowingly. I was so disoriented I believed dark was light and right was wrong. I will never stop crying for hurting your tender souls.’

For her part, Hildebrandt said one of the reasons she pleaded guilty, and did not go to trial, was that she did not want the youngsters to relive the experience.

‘My hope and prayer is that they will heal and move forward to have beautiful lives. I’m willing to submit to what the state feels would be an appropriate amount of time served to make retribution as an outcome.’

Attorney Randy Kessler, for one, was unmoved by Hildebrandt’s saccharine words. ‘Hearing Jodi say in court that she loved those children – that’s psychopathic,’ he commented.

Both women can expect to spend a long time behind bars but, under Utah law, they will serve no more than 30 years of their 60-year sentences.

As for the children, a long period of healing lies ahead. The oldest daughter, Shari, is now 21 and at university. She broke off all contact with her parents some time ago.

Typically, for a young woman whose childhood was documented on social media, she chose Instagram to break her silence.

‘Today has been a big day. Me and my family are so happy that justice is being served. We’ve been trying to tell the police and CPS for years about this, and so glad they finally decided to step up.’

She continued: ‘Kids are safe, but there’s a long road ahead. Please keep them in your prayers and also respect their privacy.’

UtahYouTube

ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

Leave a Comment

data data data data data data data data data data data data data