One of her sons had to sleep on a bean bag for months because she took away his bed; another was forced to sleep on the bathroom floor as punishment; the children were not given breakfast until they had completed their chores; she hoped no one at school would share lunch with her daughter when she forgot to bring her own. Ruby Franke documented all of this for years in a video blog on YouTube. Almost 2.5 million subscribers gave the mother of six from Utah a wide reach. For a long time, hardly anyone seemed to be bothered by the fact that she spoke openly about the abuse of her children as a form of punishment.
But now the 41-year-old is in court; Franke pleaded guilty on Monday to four cases of serious child abuse. Back in August, she and her business partner Jodi Hildebrandt were arrested in the small town of Ivins in southwestern Utah. One of her sons had previously jumped out of a window in Hildebrandt's house and fled to a neighbor, where he asked for water and food. According to the police report, the boy, who was completely emaciated, had numerous wounds on his body and tape on his hands and feet. "During the search of the home, evidence was found consistent with the markings found on the 12-year-old," Santa Clara-Ivins police said in a statement.
"He was held there and is covered in wounds. He asked me to call the police and is very scared," says the neighbor in the emergency call that the police released. Franke confessed to the police that she had forced her son to do hours of physical labor every day over the summer without giving him enough water. She also refused him food or only gave him simple meals. He was isolated from other people and had no access to books or electronic devices. His mother and Hildebrandt treated the wounds with cayenne pepper and honey.
The son had already tried to escape from the house in July, but was prevented from doing so by his mother and Hildebrandt. The boy told investigators that “Jodi” tied his hands and feet with rope. In other cases, his handcuffed hands and feet were secured with a rope while he lay on his stomach. Franke also confessed to kicking the boy with boots and holding his head under water. "The son was told that everything that was done to him was done out of love," according to a plea deal Franke agreed to with prosecutors before pleading guilty. The blogger also admitted to a similar approach with her then nine-year-old daughter. "She was told that she was evil and possessed and that the things done to her were meant to help her," the deal said, quoted by the AP news agency.
In the months and years before her arrest, the 41-year-old had repeatedly been surrounded by controversy. In her video blog, in which she gave parents advice on raising children, she spoke openly about the punishments for her offspring. The channel was blocked from YouTube after Franke's arrest, but individual sequences can still be found on the platform. You can see her threatening to cut off the head of a cuddly toy if her daughter cuts something up in the house again. Franke and Hildebrandt's joint YouTube channel, on which they give life tips, was also blocked from YouTube - it is still available on Instagram.
In a statement last week, Franke's lawyer said his client had been influenced by Hildebrandt, who works as a relationship counselor. His client believed that Hildebrandt wanted to show her a "constant path to improvement" but took advantage of her mother's efforts and twisted them "into something disgusting."
The police and the youth welfare office also became aware of Franke last year. As early as 2020, more than 17,000 signatories called on the authorities to take action in a petition. After separating from her husband Kevin last year, the 41-year-old repeatedly traveled for several days to Hildebrand in Ivins, around 400 kilometers away - but the children had to stay alone in Springville in northern Utah. Kevin Franke has now filed for divorce.
As early as September 2022, the eldest daughter, who had now moved out of the house, made an emergency call that her siblings had been home alone for five days. The neighbors told the officers on site that the mother regularly left the children alone for long periods of time, Komo News reported. During the incident, the children themselves did not open the door for the officers and hid on the upper floor of the house. But the authorities took no action. "Child welfare told us they can't take action until someone gets hurt," a neighbor told People magazine. Even after Franke was arrested in Ivins, officers found two 14 and 16-year-old children in the house in Springville who had been left behind by their mother. While their two younger siblings were taken to the hospital malnourished, the two teenagers were in good health. All four were taken into state custody.
Franke and Hildebrandt have been in custody since their arrest - and will probably spend a while in prison. The two women are accused in six cases, each of the children is considered an individual case, although Franke has only pleaded guilty to four. For each count, the two women face prison sentences of between one year and 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000 each. A verdict is expected on February 20, 2024.
Sources: AP, CNN, Santa Clara-Ivins Police, Komo News, People Magazine