An adroit and agile thief took $195 in cash from three guests at the Mayflower Hotel last night in what D.C. police describe as one of the most unusual robberies here in recent memory.

Police said the guests -- two men from New York and a California woman -- were aboard an elevator descending from the sixth floor to the lobby about 7 p.m. when the elevator suddenly stopped between floors.

Immediately, the three told police, the roof escape hatch in the elevator popped open and a voice, apparently that of a man, shouted into the car, "Give me all your money. I don't want to shoot you."

The voice ordered passengers to gather their cash and told one victim to hand it toward the hatch. "But don't look up, and you'll be down in a few minutes," the voice said.

With that, a hand reached through the hatch and grabbed the money before the hatch slammed shut.

One passenger picked up the elevator's emergency phone but found that the mouthpiece had been dismantled, police said. A few seconds later, the elevator began to descend and the passengers arrived safely in the lobby.

Police searching the hotel said they found that someone had tampered with the elevator controls and the telephone, but they declined to elaborate. The thief apparently escaped on a ladder in the elevator shaft.