Mother Who Allegedly Starved and Pepper-Sprayed Her YouTuber Children Dies in Hospital

Screenshot: Fantastic Adventure (YouTube)

Warning: This article includes descriptions of sexual and physical abuse of children.

A mother who operated a popular YouTube channel that showed her seven adopted children’s shenanigans has died in a hospital about eight months after she was charged with abusing, molesting, and imprisoning her children.

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When Machelle Hackney and her two biological adult sons were arrested in Maricopa, Arizona, in March, Hackney’s YouTube channel “Fantastic Adventures” had about 800,000 subscribers. The videos, which depicted Hackney’s younger children outfoxing wicked babysitters and supervillains, racked up millions of views. Collectively the videos had been viewed more than 250 million times.

Authorities were tipped off by Hackney’s biological daughter, who told law enforcement that Hackney had abused the children by leaving them in a locked closet for days, starving them, and spraying them with pepper spray. Police performed a welfare check at Hackney house and found a child in a closet. The children allegedly looked malnourished and said they were thirsty and hungry. When an officer offered one child chips, she was allegedly afraid that her mother would smell her breath and find out she’d eaten something.

Police then obtained a warrant and found pepper spray in Hackney’s room. The children told police that their mother used the spray on them. According to police reports, one child said Hackney had sprayed the chemical agent on her genitals. Another child said Hackney would pinch his penis and make it bleed.

All the children reportedly said they were punished if they didn’t cooperate with the YouTube videos or if they didn’t know their lines.

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Hackney denied abusing the children. She told law enforcement she would only spank them or make them stand in a corner.

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At the time, YouTube told Gizmodo that it demonetized the “Fantastic Adventures” channel once the company learned of the arrests. The spokesperson said YouTube would only take down the channel entirely if Hackney is convicted of the charges or enters a guilty plea. But the platform changed course and terminated the channel hours later.

According to a Phoenix-based ABC affiliate, Hackney had a brain injury in jail and was moved to a care facility this summer. In August, a Superior Court Judge deemed Hackney incompetent to stand trial

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A Maricopa Police Department public information officer told the Arizona Republic and ABC 15 that Hackney died at a Scottsdale hospital on Tuesday. Hackney faced 29 charges.

The Pinal County Attorney’s Office told ABC15 it was working on seizing Hackney’s assets—including more than $100,000—so it could give the money to the seven adopted children.

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About the author

Jennings Brown

Senior editor and reporter at Gizmodo