When one of Ruby Franke’s six children turned up emaciated on a neighbor’s doorstep, with open sores and duct tape wrapped around their limbs, it shocked the millions who had watched her “8 Passengers” YouTube channel.
The Mormon mom had delighted fans — and earned into six figures — by appearing to be a great mom with a posse of kids and a husband who loved her, until the neighbor in Santa Clara, Utah, called 911 and brought her influencing career to a catastrophic end.
Now friends are telling how before her dramatic fall, Franke, 41, buddied up with rigid self-help guru Jodi Hildebrandt, 54, and, according to one of Franke’s sisters, “the crap hit the fan.”
Both are charged with child abuse, but to those who knew her, Franke’s relationship with Hildebrandt had long since set off alarm bells.
“Ruby changed a lot once she started to associate with Jodi,” a longtime friend of Franke told Page Six.
“Ruby’s values definitely changed. Then she started lying,” the friend said.
“Ruby became hard to contact as a friend — and I knew her for 22 years. Overnight, she banned her family with no rhyme or reason. What happened to Ruby is heartbreaking.”
Hildebrandt was a licensed therapist (the license was frozen after her arrest), offered counseling through an organization in Santa Clara called ConneXions.
It bills itself as an internet-based education program. ConneXions claims to work on relationship problems and anxiety, among other issues.
According to Julie Deru, one of Ruby’s sisters, “Three years ago, Ruby was getting counseling [from Hildebrandt].”
“You can be whole,” Hildebrandt said in a promotional video. “You can experience feelings of being whole, centered, liberated, connected, empowered and free.”
But Franke’s estranged husband Kevin, a former Brigham Young University professor, believes that none of that is true.
Randy S. Kester, the attorney representing Ruby’s husband, Kevin Franke told Page Six, “Jodi held herself out as this expert who could heal people and families by humiliating them. My client thinks she destroyed his marriage and destroyed his family.”
Other men made similar claims to NBC News, saying that Hildebrandt diagnosed them as being addicted to sex, pornography or lust, and ruining their marriages.
Apparently, Franke was not shy in sharing her lessons from ConneXions, which was founded in 2007.
“We all felt weird about this Jodi lady,” Deru said on her YouTube channel, the Deru Crew. “We didn’t like the teachings that Ruby was bringing to family functions. We came close to saying something but didn’t.”
Soon after Jodi and Ruby began spending time together, Deru continued, “Ruby and I hung out, bottling tomatoes. A few weeks later, she left the family. She didn’t even call me.”
Her long-time friend experienced similar treatment: “Ruby became hard to contact [after she aligned with Hildebrandt]. It was like she couldn’t be friends with people anymore.”
Over the 3-year period, she became increasingly enmeshed with Hildebrandt and with ConneXions. Her Instagram and YouTube channels switched from apparently wholesome family scenes to her and Hildebrandt lecturing on topics like “tactics of deception,” “creating a truth declaration,” and “lust.”
On the company website’s “meet the business team” section, Franke remains listed as “certified mental fitness trainer.”
According to Kester, “Ruby gave up the ‘8 Passengers’ thing and Jodi took it over through ConneXions. I don’t know why she gave it up. We don’t know what Jodi got out of it, other than running the show and telling Ruby what to do.”
Early on, Kevin, 44, was no stranger to his wife’s therapist-turned-business partner and their tight relationship. “He was aware of Jodi and knew Jodi,” said Kester. “I am confident that she came to the house and hung out.”
At the same time, Ruby began spending increasing amounts of time away from home, in the company of Jodi.
“They went on trips for days at a time,” said Kester. “They would go on what they characterized as business trips. Kevin stayed home with the kids. He was a devoted husband and would not stand in the way of her self-development.”
While, according to Kester, there has “been speculation [about Jodi and Ruby being more than friends and colleagues],” he added, “I don’t have anything to indicate that. My client has not seen any sign of that relationship – other than videos where [Jodi and Ruby] were holding hands.”
Asked if the bonded Ruby and Jodi were a real-life version of “Thelma & Louise,” he responded, “It’s a fair characterization.”
Hildebrandt, allegedly, managed to get deep into the workings of the marriage between Kevin and Ruby by enlisting Kevin into what Kester characterizes as her “men’s group.”
“For 13 months [beginning in 2022], Kevin was in a men’s group supported by Jodi,” said Kester. “Jodi directed the meetings. [Kevin] was told he was greedy and narcistic and selfish and everything bad – and he needed to go repent.”
These meetings coincided with Kevin being told that it would be best if he moved out of his family home.
“We think it was Jodi’s idea and that she pushed it on Ruby,” continued Kester. “It happened after Jodi and Ruby and Pam had been on a trip.”
Agreeing to leave, “Kevin said he would do what it takes to repair his family. Then, in the summer of 2023, Jodi had Ruby move in with her.”
What happened in the house remains a matter of investigation.
But Hildebrandt’s mode of treatment, which seems similar to what the Franke children are alleged to have been put through, is described in an online interview given by Jodi’s niece, Jessi Hildebrandt, a tattoo artist in Seattle.
Recalling having been “left in Jodi’s care as a teenager,” Jessi stated to KUTV in Utah, “I experienced being tied and duct-taped and blindfolded. I experienced severe isolation. I experienced being told I shouldn’t be around other people.
“I was forced to sleep outside in the snow. I was isolated for up to 12 hours a day. If someone spoke to me directly, if I didn’t have duct tape on my mouth, I was supposed to stare at them and not respond. [Jodi] believes that all shame should be punished.”
Accompanying Jodi and Ruby on trips, according to Kester “was a lady named Pam.”
That would likely be Pam Bodcher, 63, listed as president of ConneXions on the company website.
In her interview, according to KJZZ in Utah, Jessi described herself as “having very strong feelings” about Pam. “Pam Bodtcher was Jodi’s best friend.
“Not that she was directly involved in applying abuse [to Jessi], but she was one of the people that was constantly surveilling, the surveillance of reporting back to Jodi.”
Attempts to reach Bodtcher were unsuccessful.
On August 30, everything unraveled when police were called to check on the welfare of the Franke child.
“I just had a 12-year-old boy show up,” the neighbor told an emergency dispatcher. “He’s emaciated. He’s got tape around his legs. He’s obviously covered in wounds. He says what happened to him was his fault.”
Considering what went on in her aunt’s house, and the relationship between Hildebrandt and Frank, Jessi said, “Ruby supports [the duct taping and starvation] but it comes from Jodi. I hope that Jodi is not able to slink away and fade into the background. Jodi is the foundation.”
Ruby’s long-time friend does not disagree: “No one is perfect, and I can see Ruby being rehabilitated out of this mindset and misinformation. But Jodi, not so much. I’d like to see Jodi gone forever.”
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