Ruby Franke’s former partner Jodi Hildebrandt pleads guilty to child abuse

Jodi Hildebrandt, the former business partner of YouTube vlogger Ruby Franke, pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse nine days after Franke did the same.

Hildebrandt, who owned a counseling business, had visible tears on her cheeks as she entered the Utah courtroom on Wednesday for the hearing which comes after Franke also plead guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse.

Franke was once a popular vlogger who gave parenting advice on the now-defunct “8 Passengers” channel to her millions of followers – but behind the scenes, she was physically torturing and starving at least two of her children.

The two women were arrested in August after Franke’s 12-year-old son escaped from Hildebrandt’s house and asked a neighbour to call police, while begging for food and water, according to police.

The boy appeared to be severely malnourished and had “deep lacerations from being tied up with rope and from his malnourishment,” according to court documents. Franke admitted in her statement that her “actions involved the physical torture” of her son.

Jodi Hildebrandt (Utah Fifth District Court)
Jodi Hildebrandt (Utah Fifth District Court)

A YouTube video from Hildebrandt’s channel showed Franke in Hildebrandt’s home two days before the arrest, which served as evidence that the women were “present in the home and having knowledge of the abuse, malnourishment, and neglect” of the children, KUTV reported, referencing court documents.

Hildebrandt had also used cayenne pepper and honey directly on the wounds of Franke’s children, court documents alleged.

She was initially charged with six counts of aggravated child abuse but as part of the plea deal, two of the charges were dropped. The charges are second-degree felonies that each carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The charges of child abuse came after years of allegations and concerns by viewers of the YouTube channel 8Passengers, where Franke gained a public profile by documenting the day-to-day lives of their family and sharing parenting advice.

Jodi Hildebrandt and Ruby Franke were arrested in August (Instagram/Moms of Truth)
Jodi Hildebrandt and Ruby Franke were arrested in August (Instagram/Moms of Truth)

There were concerns over the strict parenting style shown in the videos, such as withholding food and Christmas presents from their children as punishment.

The channel was eventually deleted, but Franke continued to share parenting advice alongside Hildebrandt in videos under the name of Hildebrandt’s therapy company Connexions.

Earlier this month, as part of her plea agreement, Franke agreed to testify against Hildebrandt.

Franke admitted to a slew of horrific acts that included forcing them to work outside in the sweltering heat without adequate water until they “blistered”.

She tried to convince her children that they were evil and possessed and that the “punishments” were necessary to repent. She described the abuse as “acts of love”.

Moment parenting advice YouTuber Ruby Franke pleads guilty in child abuse case (Law&Crime Network)
Moment parenting advice YouTuber Ruby Franke pleads guilty in child abuse case (Law&Crime Network)

The new disturbing details were revealed in Franke’s statement filed in court in support of her guilty pleas in which she stated she abused two of her children in Washington County from May 22 until her arrest on 30 August.

In the plea deal statement, Franke further admitted to forcing the boy into long hours of physical tasks, working outside in the summer without shoes or adequate water and receiving “repeated and serious sunburns” that blistered after he was “forced to stand in the direct sunlight for several days.”

The boy was denied sufficient food, and when given food he was given very plain meals while others in the house ate regular and more flavorful meals, according to the plea agreement.

Franke also admitted to kicking her son while wearing boots, holding his head under water and “cutting off oxygen by placing her hands over his mouth and nose.”

Ropes were used to tie together handcuffs that secured his hands and feet as he lay on his stomach, lifting his arms and legs off the ground and injuring his wrists and ankles, the plea agreement stated.

Franke further admitted that her son was kept isolated from other people and denied all forms of entertainment, including books, notebooks and electronics.

Similar abuse was inflicted on Franke’s nine-year-old daughter, she admitted, writing in her statement that the girl was forced to work outside, run on dirt roads barefoot “for extended periods of time,” and go without food and water.

"She was also repeatedly told she was evil and possessed, the punishments were necessary for her to be obedient and repent, and these things were being done to her in order to help her," the plea agreement said.

Franke and Hildebrandt are set to be sentenced on 20 February.