Mar 25, 2024 - News

The religious extremism of Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt

Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt. Photos via Washington County Attorney's Office

Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt. Photos via Washington County Attorney's Office

Documents released late Friday paint a detailed picture of the psychological and physical abuses inflicted by celebrity parenting influencers Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt against Franke's family.

Why it matters: The records, posted online by the Washington County Attorney's Office, show how the pair's religious beliefs motivated the abuse and the tactics they used to convince their victims they deserved it.

Catch up quick: Franke and Hildebrandt were sentenced last month to four to 60 years in prison after pleading guilty to four counts each of second-degree felony child abuse.

  • Parole and probation officials will decide how much time they ultimately spend behind bars.

Here are some of the key findings in the vast collection of documents and recordings from the investigation.

1. Abuses characterized as "Godly"

What they're saying: "This is a case about religious extremism," Washington County Attorney Eric Clarke said last month.

  • "[Franke and Hildebrandt] appeared to fully believe that the abuse they inflicted was necessary to teach the children how to properly repent for imagined 'sins' and to cast the evil spirits out of their bodies," Clarke added Friday.

Case in point: Even after pleading guilty in December, Hildebrandt compares herself to a Biblical martyr.

  • In a recorded February phone call, she recites a church blessing in which she was assured of "the power" of her "example."
  • "What's a better example than to go to prison unjustly?" she says.

Between the lines: In her personal journal, Franke wrote that her children were possessed by the devil and claimed they needed to be "humbled" by hard labor and physical pain.

  • Before police found two of her children malnourished and injured, she described the withholding of food as "fasting" and rejected her son's pleas for food, writing, "I will not feed a demon."

2. Franke's journal suggests Hildebrandt had high-ranking connections in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Driving the news: Franke notes meetings last May and June with Brad Wilcox, a member of the Young Men Presidency, and Jeremy Jaggi, a General Authority.

Flashback: Some of Hildebrandt's former clients have said Latter-day Saint clergy referred them to her therapy practice even after the state put her on probation for sharing private details that a patient said led to his discipline by the church and Brigham Young University.

Yes but: Not all of the women's beliefs align with Mormon doctrine.

The church did not respond to Axios' request for comment on the meetings or confirm whether they occurred.

3. Both women blamed the children for the harm they suffered

Details: The women forced the children, ages 12 and 9, to carry heavy boxes up and down stairs; when the 9 year old slipped and fell, Franke wrote it was deliberate. She shaved the girl's hair as punishment.

  • When the child was taken into the desert heat, barefoot, to perform labor, Franke wrote that the girl "screamed for another family, water, food, care, love," which Franke calls "a manipulative ploy."
  • In a jail phone call, Hildebrandt relays her lawyer's warnings that photos of the deep lacerations the 12-year-old suffered while bound with rope will "destroy" her. "He did that to himself," she says. "He rubbed around and cut himself."

4. One police video is particularly chilling

When officers found the girl in Hildebrandt's bathroom closet, they repeatedly asked if she was OK.

  • For the entire two-minute video, the child sits cross-legged on the floor, completely unresponsive.

5. Franke's estranged husband says Hildebrandt forced him out of the family

In a 45-minute interview, Kevin Franke said Hildebrandt's therapy practice — described as punitive by other patients — amounted to a cult that brainwashed his wife.

  • He said Hildebrandt ordered him to leave the home in 2022 and submit to her counseling.
  • "I knew that the only way I would ever get back into my house was I had to get Jodi's approval," he said. "But it felt like an impossible task. … Every week, it was like, 'You're being manipulative, you're being selfish, you're lying, you're hiding something.' And I really started to question my sanity."

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Salt Lake City.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Salt Lake City stories

Salt Lake Citypostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Salt Lake City.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more