In the seven months since Dick Cockrell became a hero, he has lost six teeth, thousands of dollars, a lot of sleep, and considerable faith in his fellow man.

His trouble started in January, shortly after he rescued a woman and her two small daughters from three would-be rapists at an East Texas roadside park.

Since then he's been forced into fights by tough guys who knocked out his teeth, hassled by an Internal Revenue Service agent, victimized by con artists, threatened by racists and pestered by a steady flow of undeserving panhandlers.

He now takes up to a dozen headache tablets every day, and is moving again, after only five months in his current apartment. The situation became unbearable after somebody began telling new residents they need not worry about security with Cockrell living close by.

Strangers wake him after he has spent a long night at the wheel of a truck, just to meet him and see how big he is, or how mean he looks. They ask to see his awards, his scrapbook. They seek his advice, his help. Some examples.

An insurance agent he'd never met used Cockrell's name to sell policies by telling prospects Cockrell owned part of the company the agent represented. Cockrell owns no insurance company stock.

A man who looks a lot like Cockrell carried newspaper clippings into several local bars, getting free drinks by claiming to be the hero. Cockrell does not drink.

His parents were threatened by anonymous racists angered because the woman Cockrell helped was black.

His car was spray-painted with the words "white trash." Cockrell said" "I didn't know there was so much prejudice still in the state of Texas."

One man tried to wheedle money from Cockrell by falsely claiming to have terminal cancer.

"People are always knocking on the door," Cockrell said. "I look out first to see who it is. I don't even answer half the time. Too many people just want to talk. But if you carry everybody's problems on your shoulders, you ain't got time for your own. I thought for a while I was going to have to go see a psychiatrist."

He also thought moving away from his trouble to someplace where he could hide from his hero identity.

But where could he run to? Judging from the postmarks on the thousands of letters sent to Cockrell, people all over the world know about him:

About how he was headed back to Dallas near the end of a long day in the truck last January, and was pulling into a roadside park to use the restroom when he saw three men trying to force a woman and her two young daughters into a car.

How several people ignored the woman's pleas for help and continued to stand and gawk while Cockrell single-handedly whipped all three of the would-be rapists.

And how Cockrell then helped reunite the woman with her husband who was driving a rented truck loaded with the family's belongings. They were moving from North Carolina to California, and he had continued driving because he hadn't noticed when she pulled into the park.

After getting them together, Cockrell escorted the family into Dallas where, satisfied they were not being followed, he drove on to the warehouse, checked his truck in and went home to bed.

But the woman's grateful husband called the Dallas Times Herald, wire services picked up the story, and soon the calls were pouring in from magazines and radio and television stations all over the country.

Then the flood of letters started, many of them containing checks from people and organizations that wanted to reward Cockrell.

But some of the letters and phone calls were unpleasant -- weird, frightening messages full of hate and prejudice.

Cockrell said he prefers to avoid fighting, and lets the other guy throw the first punch. He believes that protects him from having assault charges filed against him later. But that practice has cost him a bunch of money for bridges to replace the teeth opponents have knocked out.

Cockrell said he got a call from an IRS agent the day after a newspaper story reported that people from all over the country were sending him reward money.

He said the agent told him he owed the IRS half of that money, that he would be audited and his bank accounts would be checked.

The reward money totaled several thousand dollars, but Cockrell said he no longer has any of it. He says he gave it -- along with $2,200 more from his personal savings -- to about 15 people in need.

He won't tell who got the money, he says, because if the IRS finds out, they will go to those people and make them pay taxes, too.

"It's all been spent for stuff that people need," he said. "I don't need the money. But if the IRS wants to show just how bad they are, I guess I'll let them. I'll pay them, there's no doubt that. There's no choice. I've got maybe $10,000 equity in a house I own in West Texas. I'll sell it and put the money in the bank and wait for them to nail me."

Cockrell started a special fund with the money, and he dreamed of making it a permanent fund called Americans Involved in Helping Americans. About this time, a man from California who said he was a promotions expert sought Cockrell out and introduced himself. The truck driver told the promoter about his plans and the promoters said he could arrange to get on the big-time talk shows.

Then came the sting. The promoter kept asking Cockrell for money for expenses, and eventually took him for $1,500 without fulfilling any of his promises.

"I'm beginning to understand why nobody want to get involved any more," Cockrell says. "But I'd still say 'Get involved.' I can look back and see those kids and it was damn well worth it. I'd do it again, but I'd make damn sure nobody tells anybody."