Concerns about Ruby Franke’s children reported to police, DCFS more than a year ago

Sep 6, 2023, 10:18 AM | Updated: Oct 26, 2023, 12:15 pm

SPRINGVILLE, Utah – Neighbors and an older sibling called authorities to Ruby Franke’s Springville home to try to get help for several children in 2022, according to police records obtained by the KSL Investigators Wednesday.

The records show police responded to the home more than a dozen times during the last four and a half years; several of those visits were related to concerns about the children’s wellbeing.

The new revelations come one week after a 12-year-old child escaped from an Ivins home, knocked on a neighbor’s door and asked for food and water. The neighbor called police, noting duct tape on the child’s ankles and wrists. According to Santa Clara-Ivins police, the child had open wounds from being tied up with rope and was emaciated and malnourished.

Police arrested the child’s mother, Ruby Franke, and the owner of the home, Jodi Hildebrandt, who is also Franke’s business partner. A second child, 10, was found in the home and also determined to be malnourished.

Franke and Hildebrandt are each charged with six counts of aggravated child abuse. Police said Utah’s Division of Child and Family Services has taken four of Franke’s minor children into custody.

The newly released records obtained by the KSL Investigators now raise questions about whether authorities should have intervened sooner. They also corroborate claims from Franke’s neighbors – who spoke with KSL under the condition of anonymity – saying they had previously tried to get the children help by contacting DCFS.

‘He’s very afraid’

In the 911 call that led to the arrests of both women on Aug. 30, the neighbor relayed what the child told him just moments after his escape. The KSL Investigators obtained the recording through a public record request.

“I just had a 12-year-old boy show up here at my front door asking for help,” the caller is heard telling the dispatcher. “We know there’s been problems at this neighbor’s house. He’s emaciated, he’s got tape around his legs, he’s hungry and he’s thirsty.”

The man tells the dispatcher the boy asked him to call police and notes, “He’s very afraid.”

The caller said the boy wouldn’t say why he had tape on his extremities, but as he started to examine the boy for injuries, the man’s voice broke.

“This kid has obviously been… I think he’s been… he’s been detained,” he is heard telling the dispatcher. “He’s obviously covered in wounds.”

The boy is heard providing some information about his parents, his siblings, and Hildebrandt.

“We need the cops as soon as possible,” the man told the dispatcher.

Welfare Checks

Springville Police visited Franke’s home 15 times between March 2019 and August 31, 2023. During at least five of those visits, police were assisting DCFS.

Ruby Franke’s home in Springville, Utah. (Mark Less/KSL TV)

In April 2022, a Springville Police report revealed DCFS had been alerted that two children were “running out in the road unsupervised,” and the caseworker requested police drive through the area. The officer wrote they responded but did not see any kids in the street.

Months later, on Sept. 18, 2022, police responded to the Franke home again, this time at the request of Franke’s oldest adult daughter. According to the report, neighbors informed her that her younger siblings had been left home alone for days while Ruby Franke was in St. George with her friend.

Officers responding wrote they saw children in the home, but the children would not answer the door. “Officer’s seen the children on the phone and go upstairs where they were out of sight,” the report states.

When police approached neighbors who’d gathered outside, “They immediately started telling [us] about how the mother of the residence, Ruby Franke, will leave her children home for extended periods of time and go to St. George to spend time with her friend Jodi Hildebrandt,” the officer wrote.

“Everyone who came to the scene was very concerned about the children and them being left at home alone,” the report states.

Police documented neighbors’ names and contact information, noting several were willing to provide information and evidence to DCFS. “Central intake was contacted and a report started,” the officer wrote. Springville police confirmed that means the information was provided to DCFS.

Police call records for the address show officers followed up days later, on Sept. 22, 2022, then visited the home three more times on Sept. 23, 26, and Oct. 3 to assist DCFS.

In response to questions from the KSL Investigators, DCFS spokesperson Miranda Fisher released a statement Wednesday saying in part, “Due to confidentiality and the privacy of the children and families we work with, DCFS cannot share information on a case, either past and present, or confirm involvement with a child or family.”

Fisher’s statement did not address a question from the KSL Investigators about whether the agency is reviewing its prior involvements with the family to determine whether policies and best practices were followed. DCFS declined to participate in an interview.

Suspicions of mistreatment

Springville neighbors told KSL the Frankes were very strict with their children. They said when the Franke children were over for playdates, they would make comments about not being allowed to have food or drinks when they were being disciplined.

Neighbors told KSL they were aware others in the community had contacted authorities about the situation. They said the behavior they saw was hard to label as abuse. They said they had suspicions the children were being mistreated, but didn’t have concrete evidence of it, especially not evidence of physical abuse.

One homeowner told KSL that what they knew about the Franke household is the same information as what the family’s large online audience knew, based off of what was posted in the family’s YouTube vlogs. The neighbor referenced one incident of a child having his bedroom taken away for some time and another child going hungry at school because she didn’t pack her own lunch.

Neighbors told KSL the Franke children were regularly seen around their Springville neighborhood, playing with other kids, and walking to church until a few months ago. Many said they lost touch with the children around April 2023.

They said that’s when Ruby Franke and her younger children stopped showing up to church and they didn’t see very much of the kids outside the home.

Who are Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt?

Franke, 41, previously ran the now-defunct “8 Passengers” YouTube channel that amassed more than 2.3 million subscribers. Her family vlogs documented the lives of Franke, her husband, and their six children. The videos included parenting advice and showcased Franke’s methods of disciplining her children, which have drawn sharp criticism online.

Hildebrandt, 54, is a licensed clinical mental health counselor in Utah who founded Connexions Classroom, an Orem-based company which, according to its website, aims to “invite and encourage healing and facilitate personal growth through impeccable honesty, rigorous personal responsibility and vulnerable humility.”

Jodi Hildebrandt (left) and Ruby Franke (Right). (Connexionsclassroom.com screenshot)

Together, Hildebrandt and Franke regularly post videos offering advice on parenting and family dynamics and refer to themselves as “Moms of Truth.” In a video posted to the Connexions Classroom Facebook account in November 2022, Franke stated, “You’re not going to hear anything like this in any parenting book.”

A video posted in August 2022, featuring just Hildebrandt, is titled, “Hitting your child creates FEAR.” Hildebrandt opens the video by saying, “There’s other ways to grab your children’s attention.” She goes on to say hitting children creates a dynamic of fear, and other ways of getting their attention will probably take more effort.

“They’ll just get hit and then they’ll just look at you like, ‘So?’ Now what are you going to do, hit them harder? You know, like, pummel them? Now, you’ve lost your intervention,” she said in the video. “And more and more kids are going towards that where they just don’t appear to be phased.”

Over the years, Franke’s treatment of her children – which she filmed and posted online – has been met with controversy and concern by some. In one video clip that’s been reposted several times since her arrest, Franke admits to withholding food from her children.

Kevin Franke

Neighbors in Springville said Kevin Franke, Ruby’s husband, moved out of the family home around one year ago. Randy Kester, attorney to Kevin Franke, told KSL that it is “common knowledge” his client moved out of the family home but noted he is back at the residence.

In a phone interview with KSL, Kester said, “Kevin is a very kind, very soft-spoken guy. He’s been a great dad. He is following the guidance of the juvenile court and his counsel and attempting to do those things that are best for the kids, in conjunction with the experts that the court is consulting. We’re all hoping in a joint effort to get these kids back to normal. They’re young.”

Kester pointed out Kevin Franke has not been charged or arrested in this child abuse investigation.

Neighbors said around the time he moved out, Ruby Franke started working closely with Hildebrandt.

What happens next?

Charging documents do not indicate either Franke or Hildebrandt participated in interviews with investigators.

“Ms. Hildebrandt requested a lawyer and did not speak with us. Once given her charges, Ms. Hildebrandt informed me (the children) should never be allowed around any other kids,” police wrote.

Hildebrandt and Franke are both scheduled to make their initial appearances in court on Friday.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

UPDATE: This story has been updated with the full name of Jodi Hildebrandt’s business after businesses with similar names were targeted with fake, negative online reviews.

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Concerns about Ruby Franke’s children reported to police, DCFS more than a year ago