How two Utah mums built a parenting support network while abusing their own children.

Content warning: This story includes descriptions of child abuse that may be distressing to some readers.

Former therapist Jodi Hilderbrandt and parenting vlogger Ruby Franke ran an online self-improvement program for years before the truth about them was unmasked. 

The program, ConneXions, was marketed as a parenting support network, teaching parents how to guide their kids through life in a 'God-abiding' way. Despite the image they projected online, the Utah friends-turned-business-partners were abusing Franke's two youngest children. 

This month, both Hildebrandt and Franke pleaded guilty to child abuse, the 'perfect parenting' facade they had built crumbling to pieces. 

Watch: The case explained. Post continues below.

Video via KSL News.

Franke already had a following online before starting ConneXions as a parenting influencer. She had regularly posted vlog-style videos about her family life and children under the now-defunct YouTube channel '8 Passengers', which referred to her six children, herself and her husband Kevin Franke. 

The family, who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah, had nearly 2.5 million subscribers at the channel's peak. Franke's parenting style shown on camera was overtly strict, drawing criticism.


By 2020, Franke's eldest children had moved out of home, though she continued to post parenting content online which often featured her youngest kids. 

She then co-founded ConneXions alongside Hildebrandt, a fellow Utah mother who was known for being a former therapist and life coach with a similar 'strict' perspective on parenting. 

Their joint program also promoted an extreme parenting style, aiming to "help treat those lost and stranded in the darkness of distortion," according to its website.

But it was only once Franke's youngest son escaped and sought help from a neighbour that the duo were brought to justice. With multiple twists and turns in the case, here's a rundown of what exactly occurred. 

August 30, 2023: the arrest.

Franke and Hilderbrandt were arrested at Hilderbrandt's house in Utah.

According to an affidavit filed by the Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety Department, one of Franke's children - her 12-year-old son - had climbed out of a window of Hildebrandt's residence and ran to a neighbour's house. Once there, the child had asked for food and water.

The neighbours were concerned and called the police after seeing remnants of duct tape on the child's hands and ankles.

Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt hosting one of their virtual ConneXions talks. Image: ConneXions/Facebook.


The boy was transported to hospital "due to his deep lacerations" and malnourishment. After searching the residence, officers found a 10-year-old girl in a "similar physical condition of malnourishment" who was also "transported to the hospital for treatment".

On the day of the arrests, Franke's oldest daughter Shari expressed relief.

"Finally," Shari wrote on Instagram alongside a photo of police outside of the family's home. "Today has been a big day. Me and my family are so glad justice is being served. We've been trying to tell the police and CPS [child protective services] for years about this, and so glad they finally decided to step up."

September 1, 2023: charges laid.

A few days after the arrest, Hildebrandt and Franke were each charged with six counts of child abuse.


The charges against the two women stem from the alleged physical abuse, malnutrition and severe emotional harm of two children, with each count carrying a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of up to approximately AUD$14,700.

Prosecutors say Franke and Hildebrandt either caused or allowed someone to torture Franke's 12-year-old son and injure her 10-year-old daughter. 

Franke's other children under the age of 18 were placed in the custody of child protection services, the affidavit said. The family has since shared publicly that the 12-year-old and 10-year-old are now "doing okay".

September 1, 2023: Franke's sisters speak out.

With the Franke family largely consisting of social media influencers, Franke's three sisters Ellie, Bonnie and Julie released a statement via their own Instagram channels.

For context, Ellie Mecham has over 550,000 followers and shares parenting and home renovation content, and Julie Griffiths Deru is also a parenting influencer with 140,000 followers. Bonnie Hoellein is a business owner and parenting and home renovations influencer with 315,000 followers. 

"Behind the public scene, we have done everything we could to try and make sure the kids were safe. We wouldn't feel right about moving forward with regular content without addressing the most recent events. Once we do, we will not be commenting on it further. Ruby was arrested which needed to happen. Jodi was arrested which needed to happen. The kids are now safe, which is the number one priority," they said. 

Bonnie and Ellie then released YouTube videos further denouncing their sister. 


"I am mad at what has happened. I am beyond disgusted," said Bonnie. "We did not know what they were doing because like we said, we were cut off. We did not have access to anyone."

September 6, 2023: YouTube bans Ruby Franke content.

Following the arrests and charges laid, YouTube confirmed they had deleted all channels related to Franke and Hildebrandt, and banned Franke from the platform.

In a statement to PEOPLE, a YouTube spokesperson said the platform has "terminated two channels linked to Ruby Franke in accordance with our creator responsibility guidelines" and that it was also prepared to delete other channels that might attempt to re-upload Franke's content.


September 11, 2023: Hildebrandt's niece alleges abuse.

Hildebrandt's niece Jessi Hildebrandt (who uses they/them pronouns) spoke to KUTV where they alleged that Hildebrandt had abused them while under her care. Jessi alleged the abuse occurred when they were a teenager.

"The things that I experienced while living with Jodi - I experienced being tied, I experienced being duct taped, I experienced being blindfolded, I experienced severe isolation, I experienced severe emotional, spiritual and psychological abuse. I experienced being told I shouldn't be around other people, being told that I was dangerous to be around. People were afraid of me to the point where I was afraid of myself," claimed Jessi.

"We have a culture of not believing children and not trusting children and also children trust their parents and the parents trust the church."

November 2023: Kevin Franke files for divorce.

Franke's husband, Kevin Franke filed for divorce, his attorney saying the couple had been separated for 13 months "at Ruby's directive".

"Kevin did not want to be separated," his lawyer said. "He wanted to work through concerns as a family. There was never any formal, written decree of separate maintenance or separation agreement. The separation was under terms proscribed by Ruby and Jodi Hildebrandt."

According to court records, a domestic relations injunction was also filed, which ordered both parties not to harass each other or disparage the other in front of their children.

The lawyer continued in his statement to TODAY: "[Kevin] is making an effort to rebuild and bridge these relationships rather than sling mud and point fingers. He is focused on doing what is best for his kids at this point, even if that means undergoing some introspection."


December 18, 2023: Ruby Franke pleads guilty.

"With my deepest regret, and sorrow for my family and my children - guilty," Franke said as she entered her guilty plea in court.

Franke pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse. As part of a plea agreement, the two other charges Franke was facing were dropped and she is set to testify against Hildebrandt.

In a statement to Local Fox 13, Franke's attorneys blamed Hildebrandt for taking "advantage" of Franke and influencing her to abuse her two youngest children. The judge has said there "won't be any argument" as to whether or not Franke will face prison time, despite the plea agreement. 

The statement from Franke's attorney said: "Initially, Ms Franke believed that Jodi Hildebrant had the insight to offer a path to continual improvement. Ms Hildebrant took advantage of this quest and twisted it into something heinous.

"Ms Hildebrandt systematically isolated Ruby Franke from her extended family, older children, and her husband, Kevin Franke. This prolonged isolation resulted in Ms Franke being subjected to a distorted sense of morality, shaped by Ms Hildebrandt's influence."

December 18, 2023: details from plea agreement released.

As per the plea agreement, Franke admits that she tortured her 12-year-old son from May 22 through to August 30 by forcing him to do physical labour, providing minimal water and leaving him outside where he sustained serious sunburns. 


Court documents reveal the boy tried to run away in July but had been caught, resulting in his hands and feet being regularly bound from that point onwards. There were other acts of violence and abuse that Franke admitted to as well.

December 27, 2023: Jodi Hilderbrandt pleads guilty.

Hildebrandt received a similar plea agreement and accepted it. She too was initially charged with six counts of aggravated child abuse for actions towards Franke's children. Two of the charges were dropped, and Hildebrandt pleaded guilty to four charges. 

Further details of the alleged abuse were detailed in the agreement as per what Hildebrandt inflicted.

The children were denied food and water or fed only plain, insufficient foods. During outdoor work, Franke's 10-year-old daughter sustained injuries and burns to her feet while walking barefoot. Hildebrandt also "either physically forced or coerced" the daughter to "jump into a cactus multiple times."  

Both children were told they were "possessed" and that the abuse was a result of their disobedience. They were also indoctrinated to believe the abuse was a form of repentance for their actions, according to the agreement. 

The pair's sentencing is scheduled for February 20, 2024.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Feature Image: ConneXions/YouTube.