Ruby Franke’s 12-year-old son told police his mom’s business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, had tied him down with rope before he escaped Hildebrandt’s home Aug. 30 and asked a neighbor for food and water, according to newly released police search warrant records.
Hildebrandt, a licensed clinical mental health counselor, and Franke, a Utah parenting advice YouTuber, were both arrested after the boy’s escape. A neighbor called police because the boy seemed malnourished and had duct tape on his ankles and wrists. The women were each charged with six felony counts of aggravated child abuse.
The search warrant records released Wednesday state that the boy “appeared to be emaciated” and was “abnormally thin and weak” when officers arrived. Under the duct tape, first responders found open wounds, which the boy said “they” — seeming to reference his mother and Hildebrandt — had used cayenne pepper and honey to treat.
Officers then responded to Hildebrandt’s home, where they performed a “sweep” to see if anyone inside needed emergency medical attention. There, they found Ruby Franke’s 10-year-old daughter, the records indicate, noting that the child was “reluctant to speak to officers.” Police also identified what appeared to be a safe room in the basement, which was locked, the records state.
At that point, Santa Clara-Ivins City police requested a search warrant for evidence related to child abuse, which a judge approved four minutes later, records show.
Items found in search
Police have said the 10-year-old girl also appeared malnourished. Both she and the boy were taken to a hospital for medical treatment. They and two of Franke’s other children have since been placed in state custody, charging documents state.
The search warrant records detail a list of items police confiscated from the home, including two pairs of handcuffs; a bowl with red liquid and a metal spoon inside; tape; Saran wrap; at least three ropes; and absorbent dressings and bandages, among other things.
Officers also executed a search warrant for electronic devices that may have been used to record abuse, or injuries sustained from abuse, according to police documents.
The boy police first spoke with had initially told officers that two of his siblings — a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old — were inside Hildebrandt’s home before he escaped, but authorities only found the youngest child, the search warrant records indicate.
Officers determined that Ruby had left three of her children in Hildebrandt’s care, though it’s unclear for how long, according to the records. The third child was not immediately located, police wrote at the time.
Hildebrandt surrenders license
Until their arrest, Franke and Hildebrandt ran an online self-improvement program based out of Ivins called ConneXions, which aimed to “help treat those lost and stranded in the darkness of distortion” through its curriculum of workbooks, DVDs and podcasts, according to its website.
Hildebrandt has been a licensed clinical mental health counselor in Utah since 2005. On Tuesday, she agreed to voluntarily surrender her license as the child abuse case is adjudicated, meaning she cannot practice in any way, even if she is released from jail. Hildebrandt and Franke are currently being held without bail in Washington County.
Franke previously hosted a parenting advice YouTube channel called “8 Passengers,” where she video-blogged the lives of her family — including her six children, herself and her husband, Kevin. The channel was launched in 2015 and had more than 2 million followers before it was deleted last year. Kevin and Ruby Franke also separated last year, Kevin’s lawyer has said.
The family has been criticized online for parenting decisions shared on the channel, including Ruby Franke once saying that she refused to take lunch to her kindergartener who forgot it at home. The oldest daughter, a Brigham Young University student, has said in social media posts that she cut ties with her parents.
Two days before Franke’s 12-year-old son escaped, a video posted to YouTube depicted Franke in Hildebrandt’s home, according to court documents. Investigators considered the footage evidence that Franke had recently been in the Ivins home and knew about the apparent abuse, according to a probable cause statement.
Inside Hildebrandt’s bathroom, investigators also found used gauze, which they considered evidence that Hildebrandt knew about the apparent abuse, the statement notes.
Hildebrandt and Franke are next expected to appear in court sometime after Oct. 5, though a specific hearing date has not yet been scheduled.