Laughing Gas Kills Two in La Jolla

Laughing Gas Kills Two in La Jolla

Laughing Gas Kills Two in La Jolla

In 1969, La Jolla was still a sleepy beach town and pretty much unknown to the country, let alone the world. There was a 5 & 10 store, Safeway market (that everyone worked at), small hardware store, a few shoe stores, and Walker Scotts was the upper end of clothing.

The average home sold for $39,000. There were no MacMansions, but small, almost cottage like homes. Downtown La Jolla did not look like Rodeo Drive, and living on top of the hill was considered country living. La Jolla had its own movie theater with Saturday matinees that cost $1.50.

Everyone knew each other and La Jolla High had about 600 students.

But that all changed on  June 3, 1969 when this horrible  tragedy put La Jolla on the map. The media jumped on this and just about every paper carried this story for weeks.

The culture change of the hippies, protesters, drugs, Make Love, Not War, shocked La Jolla ‘once was’ quite and secluded town. La Jolla got its fame, but not like they wanted!

The article says it all. One got a bottle of laughing gas and got three more students who also wanted to get a quick high. And at the bottom of Bird Rock Avenue, locked the doors of  a sports car,  rolled up the windows, and opened the valve.

Instantly two died. Two managed to escape.

The teenagers where found by police who were called when residents heard a loud almost hysterical voices coming from the car. Police when arriving found the body of Clare Herick, 18, and Peter Strata, 17 in the back seat. Both were pronounce dead at the scene.

Nora Ruffcorn, 16 was found in the front seat and taken to the hospital in serious condition. Brad Hunter, 17, was outside the car and leaning against it. He was taken into custody after being treated and released at the local hospital.

Editors Note: Nora is married, has kids and lives up north and doing well.  Brad Hunter’s whereabouts is  unknown at this writing.

Article from Google Archives.


  1. William Fairbrother says:

    she was the most beautiful girl in the world

  2. William Fairbrother says:

    I think Claire Herick was the most beautiful woman in the world, she was also a great artist…

    Mind you, I was only twelve years old at the time, and she was seventeen…


  3. J Wilkins says:

    Hi, I remember this day very well, Pete and I were good friends. I remember when he won a motorcycle from I think a radio station. I also remember that he was a vegetarian. Loved the guy. I remember Claire being a beautiful lady, but we were not really friends. I was thinking of him the other day and decided to google him. I cant believe after all these years the story is still being told. I’m 66 now and I still miss him

  4. Shannon Byers Bailey says:

    Peter Strata was a friend of my brother’s…remember him visiting our home. This was a horrible event. My mom heard of the death before hearing who it was, and thought at first it was my brother…but even Peter’s loss hit her hard…like losing a son.

  5. Ralph Irvine says:

    Claire and Elise now rest side by side, on an idyllic site that’s on the high ground and
    looks out to the west at El Camino Memorial Park, Carroll Canyon Road.

  6. Hi John. I think I met you when I came out to attend college in Santa Barbara. I have kept in contact with Scott and visited Elise often until her death. She did her best to cope, but the experience of losing Clare took a very deep toll on her.

  7. John Henderson says:

    My parents were friends with Clare’s mom, and we would vacation in La Jolla from San Francisco in the summer. I hung out with Clare’s older brother, Scott and got to know the beautiful Clare. This tragedy has stayed with me my whole life.

  8. Claudia Craig says:

    I too remember this as if it were yesterday. The day before Senior Ditch Day. We all ended up getting the day off as words filtered through about this tragedy. I went to school all my life with Claire, indeed one of the most beautiful girls ever. I used to walk home with her in La Jolla Shores in grade school. And Pete? Dear Pete! I still have my yearbook where he scrawled his name and wrote his phone number. We were in theatre together. How long ago and far away, and yet, how close!

    • Rich Handley says:

      Peter was on the stage crew for “My Fair Lady.” Claudia, I recall you were on that crew as well. That was probably the last time I saw him. We were up in the flies together.

  9. Jay Lawrence says:

    I remember my mom waking me up to tell me about peter. I couldn’t even comprehend what had happened and the fact that I would never see my good friend again. Here it is, some 40+ years later, and after seeing this on the internet I still can remember that horrible day clearly. I’ve since lost almost all of my family and friends and have become an old man with only memeroies. If any one I used to know reads this, please drop a note to say Hi!
    Jay Lawrence

    • Shannon Byers Bailey says:

      Hi, I am Kimm Byer’s sister. I remember you. So hi. Kimm come’s to La Jolla regularly from Palm Springs to sell his art.

    • Rich Handley says:

      Hey Jay,
      It’s Richie Handley. We go back a ways. How are you? I’m living in Perth, Australia.

    • Matthew Joe Sutton says:

      Hi Jay,
      I ran across this article today and thought I’d say hi. My name is Joey Sutton. Did your family live on or near Avenida Cresta off Winamar. I think I was your younger brother’s age. And I think your mom and mine were friends. We lived at 316 Winamar St. at the corner of La Jolla Blvd. I was good friends with Max Ruffcorn as we are the same age and were classmates at La Jolla High. I remember hearing about Nora and the laughing gas incident but I never knew the outcome. Despite the tradgedy, it is great reading all the stories about people I knew in High School. My regular beach memories were all at the “Lane” with Max Ruffcorn, Rob Janis, the “White Whale” (Ricky Dameron), and many more drunken fools. Those were some great memories!

  10. Edward Teyssier says:

    I just happened to find this…I remember that tragedy. I went to kindergarten with Nora and her brother Max being on the LJHS football team. I did not know until just now that Nora had ever recovered from that incident. She must have made most of her recovery and then graduated well after the rest of us, ’cause I never saw her on campus. Congratulations, Nora, on making a recovery and getting your life back on track.

  11. Stephanie says:

    Peter taught me how to ride a motorcycle. Clare and Peter were classmates. That was a sad surreal morning hearing that news in first period.

  12. Hi Bill!
    Hope life has been kind to you all these years.
    You can email me at:

  13. Bill Ainsworth says:

    Clare Herrick and Jane Tillotson were the first two girls that I met after I arrived in La Jolla in 1965. We would meet before Lorna Shades Latin class at Muirlands junior high. I had joined the USAF in May before Clair died. What a shock that was. Hi Jane!

  14. Dan Talboy says:

    What a waste of a great young beautiful girl, Claire Herrick, I went with her for awhile, till her mom said I was a bad influence on her, yet did she know the worst influences in her life were yet to come, after we split up.

    • Scott Herrick says:

      Hi Danny…. it’s Clare’s brother, Scott. I was in college in Santa Barbara when this happened. It is something that has haunted me for my whole life. I am back in La Jolla unfortunately not that house in the shores. I have some small photos of you and Clare that I came across. If you have any interest in them, I would gladly give them to you. For old memories. I go to my mom and sister’s gravesite often to take some flowers. They are up the hill under a scrawny Torrey Pines tree that my mom had them plant.

  15. Jane Tillotson says:

    Cannot believe it has been more than forty years since this tragedy. I was a very good friend of Clare’s when I lived in laJolla 1964-1966. We spent most weekends down at the Shores. I returned for a few weeks in August ’68 just before starting senior year in McLean Va. We wrote back and forth all year. I received her final letter in late May. I heard about her tragic death upon returning home the evening of June 3rd. Personnally, it has haunted me all these years. She was beautiful and also a very talented artist who might have gone far in life. I graduated from high school the following weekend, worked that summer and went on to attend college in Santa Barbara, Ca. Clare is buried in Carmel Valley next to her mother who died in March 2007. You are not forgotten, dear Clare.

    • Jane Tillotson. says:

      Hi Scott. Just thought I would check and see if there are any new comments left about the tragedy.of losing Clare. There are many. . I think about her every year at this time, you and Elise too. Somehow we all made it through those terrible days. Never easy to understand.. Take care

  16. Dennis Downie says:

    Clare Herick was in my algerbra class at LJ Hi school. She was one of the most beautiful girls in school. Everyone, tell your kids and/or
    grand kids not to mess with laughing gas

  17. As a footnote. Nora has one adult child and lives in Nevada with her husband. Her health has suffered drastically over the years, most likely due to the long lasting effects of the laughing gas.

    • Magdalena Samons says:

      Just saw a posting on FB about Laughing Gas. I immediately thought about Nora and this tragedy.

  18. Yes, I remember it well. We were good friends of the Ruffcorn kids. I took Nora to her Senior Prom after she had mostly recooperated and graduated from LJHS. I think that one of the most annoying aspect of the sad situation was the story in the La Jolla Light, “Death Get’s the Last Laugh”. The clever headline didn’t get a very good reception from local family and friends. One of my favorite t-shirts is the Mac Meda starring Albert on the back, which I inherited from my best old lost friend Ralph Perry. Sometimes I wear it when I’m shopping for my mother in La Jolla. They priced me out of that neighborhood a long time ago.

  19. Liz Kuzman says:

    I do remember this one. Happened behind our house in Bird Rock. My dad was an MD and went to see if he could help. No bringing the 2 kids back.

    • William Fairbrother says:

      I’m not trying to forgive him, but my father, the typesetter, publisher and editor, Bert Fairbrother, of the La Jolla Light – news like that didn’t happen around here. Skipper used to play pinchoco with me. My brother went to art classes with her -oils – Louise Poulett was the teacher. That’s all lost to to history before the internet

      Last time I perused Claire’ at a low-key exhibition, she was exploring Surrealism

      Yes, a great loss, –

      led into the madness

      I will eternally miss her, as she eternally misses us


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