A woman who operated a popular YouTube channel featuring videos of her children until earlier this year when she was arrested and charged with child abuse died Tuesday, officials said.
Machelle Hobson, a 48-year-old mother in Arizona, earned thousands of dollars from her "Fantastic Adventures" videos, which featured her seven children. In March, she was charged with abuse after the children told police they'd been beaten, locked in a closet for days at a time, and pepper-sprayed.
She was later declared incompetent to stand trial, but local authorities continued to believe she would recover enough to be held accountable for her alleged actions.
“I believe she will be restored (to competency),” Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer told PinalCentral after a court hearing in August. “I believe the 15-month timeframe is enough for us to get her restored, allow her to be brought back into court for her to be held accountable, and ultimately go to trial and find her guilty.”
But on Tuesday, Hobson died at a hospital, a Maricopa police spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. Her cause of death was not immediately announced.
Though she had been ruled temporarily incompetent, Hobson continued to face charges including child abuse, molestation, child neglect, and unlawful imprisonment. The case will officially be dismissed once prosecutors receive her death certificate, a Pinal County Attorney spokesperson BuzzFeed News.
Hobson's YouTube channel posted new videos weekly and amassed 800,000 subscribers until the account was terminated. The scripted videos featured her adopted children, ranging in age from 3 to 15 years old, as well as adults. Typical subject matter included superheroes and Nerf battles, and the videos regularly racked up millions of views.
Police visited Hobson's home in March after being tipped off to the alleged abuse by Hobson's adult daughter. When they arrived, they found the children appeared malnourished and had dark circles under their eyes, a police report said.
The children told officers they were punished if they didn't remember their lines for the videos, and they hadn't attended school in years.
One boy told officers that he was beaten with a hanger and a belt, and Hobson on multiple occasions pinched the tip of his penis until it bled, the police report said.
A girl said Hobson pepper-sprayed her vagina, causing days of pain, the police report said.
Hobson's adult sons, Logan and Ryan Hackney, were initially also arrested on suspicion of failing to report child abuse. Charges were ultimately not filed against them.