Housewife Houdini escapes suburban boredom

Escape artist "Alexanderia the Great" is actually Donna Purnell, a suburban housewife.
Escape artist "Alexanderia the Great" is actually Donna Purnell, a suburban housewife.
Donna Purnell

BOSTON - This past Saturday night, at a small venue outside Boston, the curious and morbidly curious gathered to see the latest death-defying stunt by "Alexanderia the Great" - housewife by day, escape artist by night.

"I will impress you and amaze you," she said before her water cell escape.

After having her hands shackled together, Alexanderia is then locked inside a water tank with no way to breathe - and seemingly, no way to survive.

It's quite a predicament - especially considering, originally, all she wanted to escape - was boredom.

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When not near drowning, "Alexanderia the Great" is Donna Purnell, the ho-hum housewife.

Now 49, she and her husband Bill started learning escapes as teenagers as a hobby.

"We just tried some simple rope ties and things like that," she said.

Later, whenever the kids weren't around, they tried more daring feats, but again, it was just a hobby.

The Purnells never considered performing until the recession hit and they started really going under. Donna was unemployed. She desperately needed work, but still wanted to stay home and take care of the kids. She felt like her hands were tied. And it motivated her to start thinking inside the box.

"I had to look back and go with what I was good at, and I was really good at this."

For the past several months, Donna has been working out with a strength training coach and a breath holding coach.

A few of her friends think she's jumped off the deep end, but her kids like the idea of having an escape artist mom - in fact, they were relieved to find out that's all she is.

"We would walk around the house and we'd see chains and handcuffs in places," said her daughter.

Apparently, compared to that image - seeing your mom trapped in a tank of water is nothing.

But more importantly, Donna and the kids hope that this act and the story behind it serve as inspiration to you - to escape whatever it is you're stuck in.

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.