Ruby Franke case: Daughter, neighbors reported child welfare concerns to police, records show

In one report, Franke’s oldest daughter Shari urged authorities to check on three of her siblings, whom she said had been left home alone for days.

(Utah 5th District Court) Ruby Franke appears in 5th District Court in St. George, Friday, Sept. 8., 2023. Franke and business partner Jodi Hildebrandt each face six felony counts of aggravated child abuse.

Authorities responded to Utah parenting advice YouTuber Ruby Franke’s Springville home at least twice last year after receiving reports concerning the welfare of her children, police records obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune show.

Franke and her business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, were arrested Aug. 30 on six felony counts each of aggravated child abuse after Franke’s 12-year-old son escaped Hildebrandt’s Ivins home through a window. Neighbors found the boy severely malnourished and called police when they noticed he had duct tape on his ankles and wrists.

Responding officers found Franke’s 10-year-old daughter malnourished in Hildebrandt’s home. The two children were taken to a hospital for medical treatment, court documents state. They and two of Franke’s other children were placed into the custody of the Division of Children and Family Services.

Previous police responses

Authorities responded to Franke’s Springville home numerous times over the years, twice regarding the welfare of her children, according to Springville Police Department records. The most recent response, on Sept. 18, 2022, was for a welfare check reported by Franke’s oldest daughter, Shari Franke.

Shari, who is a student at Brigham Young University, said in an April podcast that she cut ties with her family last year after they joined ConneXions — a self-improvement program run by Ruby Franke and Hildebrandt out of Ivins. After her mother’s recent arrest, Shari posted a picture of police officers to her Instagram story with the caption, “Finally.” In a subsequent post, she said she was glad “justice is being served.”

Shari reported to police last September that her sisters and brother had been left home alone for five days in Franke’s Springville home, while their mother visited a friend in St. George. Shari asked authorities to check on the children and make sure they had enough food “for the extended period.”

When officers arrived, the children would not answer the front door, but police could see through windows that the kids were home and on a phone call with someone before they went upstairs, out of view, records state. Neighbors told responding officers that Ruby Franke often left the children home alone to spend time with Hildebrandt.

One neighbor told authorities that video cameras on their property would show that Ruby Franke’s car had been gone continuously for four days before the welfare check. Another neighbor told police that Ruby Franke’s vehicle was at Hildebrandt’s home, and that one of the neighbor’s friends in St. George saw the car when they drove past Hildebrandt’s residence that day.

“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.”

The report states that “central intake” was contacted, but doesn’t specify whether the Division of Child and Family Services was involved. The report also does not state the outcome of authorities’ response.

Earlier that year, on April 16, 2022, a case worker from DCFS alerted authorities that two children were running in a street unsupervised near Franke’s Springville home. The case worker had an officer drive out to the area, but he did not see any children in the street when he arrived, according to police documents.

Springville police records also detail two reports of stalking and harassment filed by Ruby Franke in 2020, against individuals whom Franke believed watched her “8Passengers” YouTube channel, where she documented the daily lives of herself, her six children and husband Kevin. The channel was launched in 2015 and had nearly 2.3 million followers before it was deleted last year.

Child abuse charges

Franke and Hildebrandt are accused in charging documents of causing or permitting serious injury to Franke’s two hospitalized children in three different ways, according to the Washington County attorney’s office: through a combination of physical injuries or torture; through starvation or malnutrition that jeopardizes life; and by causing severe emotional harm.

Those three alleged forms of abuse, for each of the two children, amounted to the six aggravated child abuse counts that Ruby Franke and Hildebrandt each face. Each count carries a sentence of 1-15 years in prison, and a fine up to $10,000.

The two women were scheduled to appear in court virtually Friday from Washington County jail at 1:30 p.m. But before then, more than 1,000 people had piled into a planned livestream of the St. George proceedings to listen in, overwhelming the system and delaying the start of the hearing. Some of the many attendees shouted profanities, argued or played music before they were removed.

The delayed hearing eventually started at about 2:15 p.m., during which 5th District Judge Eric Gentry announced that Franke and Hildebrandt would remain held without bail until their next scheduled court appearance, currently slated for early Sept. 21 with 5th District Judge John Walton.

Hildebrandt’s defense attorney noted that they plan to file a motion in the meantime for an expedited detention hearing.

According to the Utah Division of Professional Licensing, Hildebrandt is a licensed clinical mental health counselor based out of Ivins. She earned a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Utah in 2003. Her license was first issued in 2005 and is listed as active.

Melanie Hall, a spokesperson for DOPL, confirmed that the division is reviewing Hildebrandt’s license after news of her Aug. 30 arrest.

“DOPL has been working with law enforcement in St. George and the jail to seek an appropriate outcome regarding her license,” Hall said. “Additionally, we have been working with the Attorney General’s office on whether to proceed with an emergency proceeding.”

In 2012, Hildebrandt was disciplined by state regulators for discussing a patient with leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and BYU without their permission, The Salt Lake Tribune previously reported.