In 1881, they separated; Polly's father, Edward, accused William of having an affair with the midwife during Polly's last pregnancy while William argued that their marriage continued for three years after the affair and accused Polly of leaving him at least four times; each time they reconciled, he claimed, she began drinking again. Whatever the story, young Edward Nichols was estranged from his father and lived with grandfather Edward; at his mother's funeral, the young man refused to associate with William.
William was still obliged to send financial support to his wife, but when he found in 1882 that she sometimes turned to prostitution, he refused to send any more.
Polly became an alcoholic drifter, trapped in a cycle of doss-houses, workhouses, drinking, prostitution, and wearing out her welcome with relatives.
On her last day, August 30 of 1888, she had three clients, but her taste for gin overruled; she'd told a friend an hour before her murder that she'd earned money for a bed three times over and she drank all the money away. She arrived at the doss-house at 1:30 AM, drunk and penniless. But she felt very confident about finding another client because she was wearing a new hat and felt she looked very pretty; she was drunk, she was missing five front teeth, but she declared, "See what a jolly bonnet I've got!"
She was found on the sidewalk of Buck's Row by two workers at 3:40 AM, she'd been dead for about 20 minutes. Her skirts were pulled up almost to her waist. Her throat had been cut and, later in the mortuary, it was found that she'd been slit open from groin to sternum and her vulva stabbed.
At Polly's inquest, Edward Walker said of his daughter, "I don't think she had any enemies; she was too good for that."