An elderly Northwest Washington couple was attacked, severely beaten and robbed yesterday by two men who invaded the couple's sixth-floor, upper Connecticut Avenue apartment and then apparently escaped by climbing down a makeshift rope of bedsheets and draperies.

The incident touched off a massive, four-hour police manhunt in the 360-unit Brandywine Apartments about 5 p.m. after officers, called to the scene by a suspicious resident, found the couple bound and gagged, discovered a window broken out below their apartment, and were told by witnesses that only one suspect was seen reaching the ground.

There were no arrests. About 40 police armed with rifles and guns drawn swarmed through the building, searched each apartment and storage areas and warned frightened tenants to stay in their units. Residents arriving home from work were escorted to their units and ordered not to unlock their doors until police had secured the building and called off the search about 10 p.m.

The couple, identified as Samuel Wolf, 85, and his wife, Leah, 79, were rushed to Georgetown University Hospital where they were both listed in serious condition.

Police said they were called to the building at 4545 Connecticut Ave. NW by a sixth-floor tenant who apparently saw one of the two suspects start to leave the couple's apartment and then dart back inside and close the door.

The two men apparently then fled through the open window of the apartment on the southside of the building, away from Connecticut Avenue, after hearing police cars, their sirens wailing, pull up in front.

Officers wearing bulletproof vests and some with police dogs heard moans for help coming from inside the couple's unit, but were delayed by a thick metal door that the suspects had apparently locked from the inside.

Sam Wolf, his hands and feet bound, managed to crawl to the door and release the deadbolt.

Police said the intruders gained entry to the Wolf unit after the couple opened their door to create a breeze.

"The place was surrounded," said Mildred D. Yerkes, a resident of the 10-story building in a quiet residential section set back from Connecticut Avenue. "They had police all around, the police had dogs, the helicopter was up above. I didn't go out. I just stayed in my little apartment."

Many of the tenants are elderly persons who have lived there 20 to 30 years.

Police said later that the case was very likely related to an earlier robbery attempt in a parking garage on Connecticut Avenue about four blocks away, where an elderly woman was attacked by two men matching the description of the two suspects.

About a month ago, the Brandywine Apartments Tenants Association met to discuss, among other things, crime in the neighborhood and the ways tenants, especially the older ones, could better protect themselves.

Security topics, according to Alan Sadoski, a tenant coordinator, included the possibility of locking the building's doors 24 hours a day, admitting residents and guests only through a buzzer system that is now only activated after 8 p.m.

"What happened today is going to be the rallying point and bring people together," said Sadoski, 32. "It's unfortunate that this will be the incident to make everybody think that perhaps we're not as safe as we think we are."