‘I will not feed a demon’: YouTuber Ruby Franke’s child abuse case rooted in religious extremism

SALT LAKE CITY — The malnourished and badly bruised son of a parenting YouTuber politely asks a neighbor to take him to the nearest police station in a newly released video from the day his mother and her business partner were arrested on child abuse charges in southern Utah.

The 12-year-old son of Ruby Franke, a mother of six who counseled millions through a popular YouTube channel, had escaped through a window and approached several nearby homes until someone answered the door, according to documents released Friday by the Washington Post . The Attorney General’s Office.

Crime scene photos, body camera video and interrogation tapes were released a month after Franke and business partner Jodi Hildebrandt, a mental health counselor, were each sentenced to 30 years in prison. A police investigation found that religious extremism motivated the women to horrifically abuse Franke’s children, Washington County Attorney Eric Clarke announced Friday.

“The women seemed to fully believe that the abuse they had committed was necessary to teach the children how to properly repent of imagined ‘sins’ and expel evil spirits from their bodies,” Clarke said .

Franke, 42, and Hildebrandt, 54, pleaded guilty to four charges of aggravated child abuse, including convincing Franke’s two youngest children that they were evil and subjecting them to manual labor, fasting for days and conditions that Clarke has described as “concentration camp-like.”

The women, who have said they belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were arrested last August at Hildebrandt’s home in Ivins, a picturesque suburb of St. George, after her neighbor Danny Clarkson opened his door opened to find the emaciated woman. boy. Their actions have been condemned by other Mormon parenting bloggers who say they misrepresented their community and the religion.

In the video, the boy is seen walking away without shoes – wearing torn socks and his ankles wrapped in bloody duct tape and plastic wrap – but he turns around when Clarkson answers the door. He and his wife, Debi, were seen on their Ring camera feeding the child, calling 911 and asking him about the cuts on his ankles and wrists, which the boy insisted were his fault.

“I suffered these wounds because of me,” the boy tells the couple as they share concerned looks. He tells the first responders that his younger sister is still at Hildebrandt’s house, and the police rush to the house.

The boy later told investigators that Hildebrandt had used rope to tie his arms and feet to weights on the ground. According to the police report, she used a mixture of cayenne pepper and honey to treat his wounds. Franke and Hildebrandt had told him that everything done to him was an act of love.

In handwritten diary entries also released Friday, Franke describes months of daily abuse, including starving her son and 9-year-old daughter, forcing them to work for hours in the summer heat and isolating them from the outside world. The women often made the children sleep on hard floors and sometimes locked them in a concrete bunker in Hildebrandt’s basement.

Franke repeatedly emphasizes in her diary that her son is possessed by the devil. In a July 2023 article titled “Great Day for Evil,” she describes holding the boy’s head under water and closing his mouth and nose with her hands. Franke tells him that the devil will lie and say she is hurting him, but she is actually trying to save him.

Later, she justifies depriving her son of food and water by writing, “I will not feed a demon.”

Franke’s attorney, LaMar Winward, and Hildebrandt’s attorney, Douglas Terry, did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment on the new evidence.

Body camera footage shows officers entering Hildebrandt’s home and pinning her down on the couch, while others roam the winding hallways looking for the young girl. They soon discover a child with a close-cropped haircut sitting cross-legged in a dark, empty closet. After sitting with the girl for hours and feeding her pizza, the police take her outside.

Franke describes how she shaved the girl’s head several times because she whined, and writes in her diary, “If she starts acting sick, she might look sick.”

Franke and her husband, Kevin Franke, launched “8 Passengers” on YouTube in 2015 and amassed a large following as they documented their experiences raising six children in a Mormon community in Springville. The couple also has a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old, as well as two adult children.

She later began working with ConneXions Classroom, Hildebrandt’s consulting firm, where she offered parenting seminars, launched another YouTube channel, and published content on their shared Instagram account, “Moms of Truth.”

Ruby Franke was already a divisive figure in the parent vlogging world. Franke’s parents were criticized online for banning their eldest son from his bedroom for seven months for making fun of his brother. In other videos, Ruby Franke talked about refusing to bring lunch to a toddler who forgot it at home.

The YouTube channel ‘8 Passengers’ has now ended and Kevin Franke filed for divorce shortly after his wife’s arrest. He appears stunned in the interrogation footage when officers inform him about his son’s condition. He had not seen his wife and children since Franke asked him to move out in July 2022, investigators said.

Kevin Franke has filed several petitions in the months since his wife’s arrest in hopes of regaining custody of his four minor children, who were taken into state custody.